Good Day! Welcome to the kickoff of 2011 Cincinnati Bearcats Football!
Before delving too deeply into the Austin Peay-Cincinnati matchup know this. Cincinnati will win this football game and it will not be close.
With that predictive notion understood a few storylines do leap off the page.
(1) First Career Starts
Many players plan to officially begin their BCS football career tonight.
Redshirt sophomore Austen Bujnoch (brother of former Bearcat Digger) shall find the field for the very first time.
"I tell ya, he is one that is being rewarded for the work he has put in," said OL Coach Don Mahoney. "Especially from the spring to summer to now he has been really consistent in his work. Consistent in his mental approach. Everything has been pin point with his day-to-day mindset. That has been huge for him."
Bujnoch ousted Andre Cureton, the 2010 backup.
"He has made the most of his opportunity and credit to him," said Coach Mahoney.
Another one of Coach Mahoney's offseason dilemmas was finding a center. In the spring Coach Mahoney decided to revisit the 2010 spring solution.
Evan Davis takes over center. He started one game last season (@Fresno) and it did not go well. For countless obvious reasons center is an important position and any firm footing for the UC offense needs perfection from Davis.
On the end of the offensive line now resides Blake Annen. Perhaps the most improved player from 2010 to 2011 was Annen.
With a tremendous offseason Annen passed two potential heirs. With the graduation of Ben Guidugli both Adrien Robinson and Travis Kelce could have slipped into the created void. Instead Annen outdueled the pair.
Kelce will not play tonight, while recovering from an ankle injury. Regardless Annen earned the starting honor clean.
The relentless drive and self-criticism of Kenbrell Thompkins made him the player he is today.
Can Thompkins climb from four-star junior college prize to starting BIG EAST receiver?
Now is his time with only D.J. Woods returning as a proven commodity. Thompkins was slowed during spring ball with back spasms, but can't wait to return to the field.
"He lets five plays ago effect how he plays because he is disappointed," said Coach Jones. "And I think that comes with maturity. I think that comes with learning the 'snap and clear.' And I think the biggest thing for him, is overall consistency. Play in and play out. Snap and clear. Move on. So the big thing with Kenbrell is just overall consistency."
(2) Establishing Legacy
Zach Collaros, J.K. Schaffer, D.J. Woods, and Derek Wolfe have had long careers with Cincinnati. A few quick, hopefully exciting months from now they will conclude.
Collaros speaks about returning UC football to its recently found glory.
"I want to be remembered as a winner and a leader, especially to the younger guys," said Collaros. "I hope we are going to win this year and it really sets the foundation for the program."
Woods just wants to catch game-winning touchdowns for the team. Schaffer is proud of his school and wants to lead his hometown defense and defending their honor matters much.
How long and how favorably these young men are remembered depends upon a successful senior season.
(3) Defensive Backs back
Greatest disappointment accompanied either the offensive line or defensive backfield in 2010. Both plan on improving their image despite minimal personnel alterations at safety. A healthy Dominique Battle does enable the feisty DB Coach Kerry Coombs a moment's respite.
"He is close," said Coach Coombs. "I think he is really coming along. He is learning to mature, take care of. That is one thing I learned from Mike (Mickens) and those guys is that they know their bodies. It is like their instrument. If it is out of tune they know it. You have to kind of learn which spot to really stretch that out. The hamstring is the knee area so I think he is learning that process. I wouldn't say he is 100% yet but he is close."
Battle will not start tonight, but is available off the bench. Most likely Coach Jones will get him in the action to test the durability of that leg.
When fully recovered Battle will challenge sophomore starter Deven Drane on the Boundary Corner.
Veterans like Drew Frey, Wesley Richardson, and Camerron Cheatham provide the vocal leadership for the unit.
Junior strong safety Frey will start his 25th game this evening while Richardson and Cheatham felt the pressure to perform last year, essentially their coming out party.
For a group that allowed 234.0 yards per game improvement is mandatory. That seeps into your pride bank, ripping the confidence from your chest. If your unit can not stop the pass ever other defensive principle erodes.
Coach Coombs, Coach Jones, and all of the individuals involved believe 2011 will be different in the defensive backfield.
(4) Key Matchup
AP Center Tim Schmid vs. Nose Guard John Hughes.
The Ohio Valley Conference media elected Tim Schmid Preseason 1st Team All-OVC. Hughes begins his second full season as a starting linemen. If any group is poised for a gigantic leap forward in 2011 look to Cincinnati's defensive line. Power, age, track record (spring/fall camp) the DL has it all.
Hughes' ascendance was expected to take pressure off of Wolfe in 2010. In fact, Derek's numbers dipped. Hughes can rebottle, then distribute the new car smell to hoards of viewing fans tonight.
The 2011 Bearcats are not only juniors and seniors, but they certainly have more experience than a year ago. Game one is important to establishing substitution patterns and easing newcomers into the fray.
A decent guide marker for UC tonight is the 21-9 Louisville victory. The Cardinals toppled Murray State (also OVC) in a penalty-plagued affair.
Louisville jumped ahead 21-0 before emptying the bench. Murray State is decidedly better than Austin Peay so Bearcat fans should expect a larger disparity.
Cincinnati's season truthfully kicks off in earnest next Saturday in SEC-country.