Football is the ultimate team game. With 22 players occupying an almost comically small portion of a massive field the margin for error is inherently small. One mistake, by either side, is the difference between the stalemate that defines vast swathes of each and every game and the game breaking plays that we all love and root for.
The difference between average and great can be made up in the form of a single player. Bearcat fans should know this well from last year. Statistically the Bearcats were average last year. If you look at the big four* statistical categories UC ranked well outside the top 25 in all but rush and scoring D. Instead of consistent team performances UC relied on the running and play making ability of Isaiah Pead while J.K. Schaffer and Derek Wolfe served to handcuff offenses making them extremely one dimensional.
* Scoring, Rushing, Passing and Total (Offense/Defense)
It is folly to assume that the Bearcats need someone to replicate the performance of those key departed guys in order to have the same kind of success. This is a completely different team and will need new players to step up in different roles than the ones the departing guys possessed.
The guy at the forefront of this is obviously Munchie Legaux. He has a ton of pressure on his shoulders to replicate the performance of Zach Collaros from last year. Zach is a legend in these parts but the bar he left Munchie to clear isn't actually that high. Zach was a great leader for the Bearcats, he was the beating heart of the team if you will, but he didn't actually play well. He had by far his lowest QB rating as a Bearcat. A big part of the problem was Collaros's decision making which ranged from "stellar" to "oh my god what the hell was that," often within the same game.** The rest the problem can be chalked up to the simple limitations having a 5'10" QB presents.
** South Florida comes to mind
The passing game with Zach was very simple and predictable. If he was in the pocket there was a black box in the middle of the field three yards outside either tackle and 15 yards deep. It didn't matter if the guy was wide open in that space he wasn't getting the ball either because he couldn't see him or possibly because he didn't trust the throw. I have no idea if that was his decision or Mike Bajakian's, but the end result was a passing game that took place almost entirely outside the hashes and left the middle third of the field unchallenged. That was the hole in Collaros's game, and it was schematic in nature.
The hole in Munchie's game is much different. He has a long and somewhat time consuming delivery*** and the other thing is that his footwork is inconsistent which leads to inaccuracy. Those are issues to be ironed out, but from the perspective of Bajakian Munchie doesn't take anything off the table in the way that Collaros's height took the middle of the field off the table. That's an important thing for this team which is going to have to rely on its quarterback to make plays. I firmly believe that Munchie can have a big year this season passing the ball. I might be in the minority on that but thats my take.
*** Which has been improved somewhat according to the reports out of camp
Cincinnati had one of the most improved defenses in the country last season going from allowing 28 points per game in 2010 to just 20 in 2011. There are several factors for that change, improved depth, particularly upfront prevented the fade down the stretch that was readily apparent in 2010. A commitment to a new attack oriented scheme predicated on wave after wave of Fire Zone blitzes. The other big change was a decision to embrace the versatility of the personnel at hand.
Everyone knows about Walter Stewart and his role as the Cheetah (the term that the coaches actually use for the position) or the Joker (the term I prefer because it is just cooler). There is Chris Williams who plays nickle back like a linebacker. Overlooked in that is Nick Temple (of Doom), but not for long I suspect.
Temple had safety size coming out of High School but my thought was always that he was bound for Linebacker because that is his natural position and because John Jancek prefers speed above all in his linebackers, and Temple has that in spades.
The other quality he had is kinda rare for high school linebackers, familiarity playing in space. A lot of guys have the physical ability to play like that, but few are asked to. Temple was really asked to do that at Warren Central. If you look at his highlights you can see just how much time he spent out there in the slot defending receivers. That came in handy last year when Temple became a starter against N.C. State, starting position he held the rest of the season.
What Temple's ability in space brings to the defense is simple. He allows the Bearcats to keep base personnel while at the same time wildly changing the front and look of the defense. That is a hugely valuable attribute for a defensive coordinator. This year Temple won't be leaving the field often. He will start at the SAM like he did last season but he has also been working at middle linebacker a lot, mostly in Nickle situations.
The question is how does Temple respond to the bigger workload. His work at MIKE points to him being the linebacker opposite Maalik Bomar in nickle situations. Its an obvious move putting probably the best cover linebacker in the nickle package. But it also gives Jancek an awful lot of flexibility to change his look without changing his personnel. This is the way Football is going and the Bearcats are ahead of the curve with guys like Temple, Williams and Walt.