Anthony McClung is one of the biggest performers from 2011 coming back for the 2012 season (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
It is basically one week since the 2011 Bearcat Football Season ended. The raises the obvious question, what will the 2012 team bring back to the table? The equally obvious response is no one really knows because there are 9 months standing between the Bearcats and their September 1st (ish) date with some FCS opponent to be named later. So with that in mind lets take a look at the Bearcats runners, passers and receivers and the offensive line.
The biggest piece of the puzzle that the Bearcats will have to place in 2012 is going to be Isaiah Pead and his running. He was so dominate this season that the Bearcats scrapped plans to create a balanced backfield rotation really early. It was Pead and if he got hurt or tired or winded from running so far and so fast that he needed a break it was George Winn
Winn is a guy who was invaluable to the team this year. He was a great lead blocker at times for Pead and he was a short yardage master, converting 5 of 6 third and short carries into first downs. Winn will get the first look, but there is a long line of young and talented backs itching for their shot lead by Jameel Poteat and Ralph Abernathy IV.
Don't forget about Akise Teague who red shirted last year but really blew people away with his agility during pre season workouts. Or for that matter don't count out Ti'on Green, Dennis Norfleet or Deionte Buckley. Running back is one of the easiest positions for a young back to adjust to the college level. This is probably the most talented crop of young running backs at UC in at least a decade. The question is whether all this talent can coalesce into a form that matches last years production.
At quarterback I am not concerned with replacing the production of Zach Collaros. Zach is a tremendous competitor and a great leader. But was really a square peg in a round hole in this offense. As much as Zach and Mike Bajakian tried to find spots where the offense worked for him there just weren't many and the stats show that. Munchie Legaux has the obvious advantage in the battle for the starting jump because he has three starts and played one of the best half's from a Bearcat QB against UConn in the first half. The good news is that whoever wins the QB job will have a ton of help from the receivers, more on that in a bit.
What I expect from the coaching staff is to throw both of the true freshmen early enrollees Bennie Coney and Trenton Norvell into the fire during the spring. The one who performs best will be in competition with Munchie and Jordan Luallen in the summer. My gut instinct is that Munchie starts the season, but that Bennie Coney winds up starting by the start of Big East play. Feel free to bookmark this to make fun of me in 9 months.
To my mind this is the strongest area of the team in 2012. The depth of talent is simply superb. Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins were the two best guys all year long. Travis Kelce kind of supplanted Adrien Robinson at TE down the stretch. Alex Chisum really took over the #3 receiver job from D.J. Woods down the stretch of the season and has a very bright future. That doesn't even factor in Chris Moore who was, by all accounts, spectacular in practice but lost the season due to a bit of a wonky injury or Dyjuan Lewis who was not ready last year but is by far the most explosive athlete on the team.
The offensive line will probably be close to matching the level of the great 2009 group. Replacing Alex Hoffman, Randy Martinez and Evan Davis will be hard. But those guys were great not really because of their talent, but their experience. They had been through wars before and were really prepared.
Eric Lefeld and Sean Hooey both return, they split half the starts this year Hooey early on, Lefeld latter on after Hooey went down. Austen Bujnoch started every game as a red shirt sophomore and will be a fixture at RG for the rest of his career. The biggest questions at going to be at Left Guard and Center. I think that Sam Longo, the Ohio State transfer, will wind up playing somewhere maybe at a tackle spot, or more likely LG. As for the center I think it will be Dan Sprauge or Daniel Murray.