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Bearcats Top 10: Mike Boone

This is a countdown of the top 10 Bearcats of the 2014 football season. This is obviously my top 10, so please, do feel free to disagree with me as I state my case for each player on the list.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Before Mike Boone the Cincinnati Bearcats had no running game to speak of. UC ran the ball a lot, but they were neither explosive nor efficient with the football when they ran it. The Bearcats finished 2013 inexplicably at the top of the charts in the AAC for rushing yards per game, mainly because the Cats simply ran the ball more often than anyone else did. UC was not good in any conventional sense.  Football Outsiders methodology, which accounts for differences in relative quality of competition put the Bearcats rushing game 83rd.

It was trending that way again early in the year. An early bright spot against Toledo aside the Bearcats were completely ineffectual on the ground in three straight losses to Ohio State, Memphis and Miami (FL). In those three games the Bearcats ran the ball  73 times for  234 yards, that's a paltry 3.2 yards per carry and a single solitary touchdown. They also seemingly ran out of running backs as first Tion Green and then Hosey Williams were announced out for the year.

That was merely the prelude, because the Bearcats running game became a real live threat over the last half of the season behind an offensive line that was starting combinations that no one expected to see, and two running backs that were burried on the depth chart in August, Rod Moore and Mike Boone.

Rod Moore was very, very good for the Bearcats. He managed as many 100 yard rushing outings in 7 games as Tion Green and Hosey Williams combined for in nearly 16 games. He ran hard, he worked hard and was far more workmanlike than either Williams or Green despite being comfortably outweighed by 40 pounds on either of them. Rod Moore was good, Mike Boone is special.

Cue up the 2:16 mark in the clip below to see what I am talking about.

The play is a simple inside zone play, one of the staples of the Bearcats new looking running game. The play is blocked well, but it's not the kind of hole that you can drive anything through. In fact there is no hole to speak of, at least not where his initial aiming point is. What happens from that point is what sets Boone apart from the rest of the backs on the Bearcats roster. If anyone else is in that situation the play is a one or two yard gain at most,

What makes Mike Boone so unique among Bearcat running backs is that he has uncommon patience for a running back that is that young. When you watch it in real time it seems like Boone is simply dancing in the hole, just like Hosey Williams or Tion Green. In actuality he is waiting for Dominic Mainello to bump up to the linebacker level which creates some green space to the weak side. At the time he made his move outside Boone was probably not aware that the USF linebackers had overrun the play to the strong side, or that they were way too close to the line of scrimmage to deal with any changes in direction. He probably didn't know that the safety was out of control, playing too fast to break down in space, he discovered that later.

It's easy to see those creases develop, to see the hole form and the opportunity exploited when you are watching at home, or in my case on my laptop.We have the benefit of stopping, starting and pausing the action at will. We can stare at the screen, or zoom in if need be, figuring out where all the chess pieces are moving based mostly on where they end up. But what's impossible to know in doing this is just how quickly a running back has to process all that information and incorporate that information to movements. Do me a favor; snap your fingers three times as fast as you can and think, really think, about the amount of time that elapses from the first snap to the third. That's about how much time Boone has to process everything.

Boone gets the hand off from Munchie Legaux and presses his aiming point, there is no hole. (SNAP!) he takes three lightning quick steps while unconsciously lowering his center of gravity with each step, all the while he is scanning his field of vision for green space, on his third stutter step he looks right and see's green. (SNAP) He puts his left foot in the ground and explodes with a 45 degree step to the right. He is through the hole, the only object in his immediate path is the safety. The safety who is running way too fast and is too out of control to breakdown and make a play all he needs is a little shake. (SNAP).

What makes Mike Boone so special is his ability to process all that information quickly and accurately, and then have his body execute that in a fraction of a second. That run was the longest by a Bearcat this year, and it came on a play that wasn't executed perfectly. It was a play that was blocked well enough, but made perfect by the vision, patience and explosiveness of Mike Boone. His future is just incredibly bright with the Bearcats.