Lost in all the doom and gloom about a thoroughly disheartening Belk Bowl loss is a simple fact. The 2013 Bearcats were a far younger team than anyone expected them to be in July, particularly on offense. Injuries played a big part in that, Dan Sprauge was the first projected starter to go down, and it just snowballed from there. Anthony McClung missed the Miami game, and was really limited against Purdue and Northwestern State Munchie Legaux went down in horrific fashion against Illinois. Trenier Orr was also lost for the year against Illinois and is no longer with the team. Alex Chisum picked up a knock in training camp, never got right and eventually took a redshirt. Later in the year Austen Bujnoch missed four games due to his foot injures. Thats just the headliners of what was a very busy year for Bob Mangine and Angelo Colosimo.
On top of the injuries, or perhaps in part because of them the Bearcats got huge contributions from unexpected places. Out of nowhere Shaq Washington became an uncoverable quark of a wide receiver. Mekale McKay transferred late, became eligible late, and by the end of the year gave the passing game a vertical threat that hasn't been there since Armon Binns moved on. Chris Moore and Max Morrision came from deep in the depth chart to became key components of the passing game. With the exception of Chris Moore, no one saw any of that coming in the summer, your humble blogger included. And thats just the wide receivers, but its indicative of a larger trend with the Bearcats this year.
Most everyone assumed that the veterans would lead the Bearcats to the promised land, or at the very least a do or die contest with Louisville to close the season. By the end of the year the veterans were few and far between on the field and on paper, and the Bearcats were still competing for an outside shot at a BCS. On the final depth chart of the year for the Belk Bowl there were 16 freshman (true and otherwise) and sophomores on the depth chart, and only 12 seniors*. Barring injury the Bearcats roster for 2014 will be in better shape than it was coming into the 2013 season. To wit.
*Of those 12 seniors listed only 10 played, while 21 freshman and sophomores saw action. It is just one game, but it is hard to see how anyone could argue that the Bearcats are starting from scratch next year. And yes, that is an actual argument I have seen from some UC fans.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Bearcats are bringing a lot back for 2013, particularly at the skill positions. If either Gunner Kiel, your likely starter as a write this in January,* or Bennie Coney live up to their recruiting hype the Bearcats passing game could be very good.
*Just under 9 months away from the season opening kickoff against Toledo possibly, it could be an FCS lamb for the slaughter on the 6th of September. In fact I am just going to assume that UC buys a different opener.
The running game will perform at roughly the same level it did this year. Tion Green, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Hosey Williams all return, and the offensive line should be excellent as it was for most of the year.* UC has to figure out who plays guard with Austen Bujnoch, Andre Cureton and Sam Longo exhausting their eligibility. But Deyshawn Bond, Eric Lefeld and Parker Ehinger return, as do rotational guys like Kevin Schloemer and Cory Keebler (Keebler played in every game this year).
*Belk Bowl aside, obviously
Likewise the defensive line returns big contributors on the edges in SIlverberry Mouhon, Brad Harrah, Terrell Hartsfield and Jerrell Jordan, but has to find new contributors in the middle as Jordan Stepp, Adam Dempsey and Marques Aiken move on. There is talent waiting in the wings, but that talent is a bit inexperienced.* That talented but lacking game experience narrative kind of holds for the rest of the defense in replacing departing starters.
*Camaron Beard is the exception, he started under the previous regime, but played in only 4 games this past year.
On every level the Bearcats have at least one multi year starter moving on Stepp up front, Greg Blair at linebacker, Arryn Chenault and Deven Drane in the secondary. But at every level of the defense the Bearcats possess at least one guy who will command the attention of opposing coordinators with Mouhon, Nick Temple and Zach Edwards. And because the Bearcats rotated so freely on defense UC has had extended looks at the back ups, and will more or less know who is going to fit in where. That is invaluable for next year.
So, in short, yes the Bearcats do have some crucial holes to fill at quarterback, both guard spots, defensive tackle, the third linebacker spot, safety and corner. But the only spot where the coaches are well and truly starting from scratch, or something close to it is defensive tackle. For the most part Tubs and the boys know what they have, and they have to like the state of the roster. It is not perfect by any stretch, but there aren't that many question marks either. So yeah, 2014 should be a fun year again so go ahead and ignore those claiming that the sky is falling, they always do that.