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Cincinnati Bearcats Football Position Preview: Running Backs

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With Heisman contender (that's right, I said Heisman contender) Gunner Kiel under center, the Bearcats will obviously be able to pass. What they get out of the running game, which has usually been an underrated strength, could push the offense to even greater heights.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012 and 2013, Cincinnati led the American Athletic Conference in rushing. Last season, with Gunner Kiel playing quarterback and the Bearcats leaning a bit more towards the aerial route, the Bearcats still racked up 2,035 yards on the ground, while averaging a healthy 4.48 yards per carry.

The offensive game plan isn't about to change. Kiel finished with over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdown passes, so you can expect him to still have plenty of bullets in the chamber and for those to be sprayed all over the field. However, Tuberville did not abandon the run last season and he isn't going to this season.

What does all this mean? It means the running back corps will remain a critical part of the offensive scheme. Last year, the Bearcats lost Hosey Williams and Tion Green to injuries early on, but still found success, employing a two-pronged attack. Senior Rod Moore (618 yards, five TDs) and freshman Mike Boone (650 yards, nine TDs) both handled the ball at least 100 times in rushing situations. Moore is no longer with the team, so one of the key tasks for the Bearcats this summer has been and will be getting Williams and Green back to form. Here's a full rundown of the Bearcats' options at running back.

Mike Boone - Sophomore Running Back No. 30

The original plan was for Boone to redshirt in his freshman season. Those plans were scrapped because of the injuries to Williams and Green. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as Boone led the Bearcats in yards and rushing touchdowns in 2014, despite playing in only nine games, and not recording a start. He also showed a ton of explosion, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. His big coming out party came in week seven against South Florida when he rolled up 212 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That's right, 19 carries! He rushed for at least 50 yards, while sharing time with Moore, in three of the final five games, while putting up 45 and 49 yards, respectively, in the other two. Based on his exceptional play as a freshman and high ceiling going forward, he projects as the No. 1 back.

Hosey Williams - Senior Running Back No. 4

That projection could have a wrench thrown into it if Williams picks up where he left off in 2013. He played in four games last season and ran for 140 yards on 26 carries before suffering a season-ending injury. In 2013, he was a key cog of the running game, producing 655 yards and four scores on 115 attempts. He also showed the same type of breakaway speed that Boone has, as he ripped off a season-long 77-yard run, although it came in a rout of Northwestern State. If it weren't for last season's injury, Boone may have been shelved as a redshirt and Williams might be coming into this season with all-conference aspirations.

Tion Green - Junior Running Back No. 7

Just like Williams, Green went from key contributor to the injured list. He had 412 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, but was limited to only three games before losing the rest of the season to injury in 2014. Still, in those three games, he did find the end zone once and average 4.2 yards per carry. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, Green has a bit more meat on his bones than Williams and Boone, so he is a valuable option in the red zone.

Boone, Williams and Green all give Tuberville a wealth of options in the backfield, so expect all three to get significant opportunities. Improving as pass catchers is a task all three should set for themselves. Between them, they have 143 career receiving yards.

As far as the rest of the group of running backs go, there is young talent to choose from, especially if Williams or Green feel the pangs of a lingering injury.

Chad Banschbach - Sophomore Running Back No. 30

Banschbach was limited in his playing time last season, rushing for 81 yards on 17 carries over the course of seven games. It is unlikely that his workload will increase by much more in 2014, especially with the return of Green and Williams and the fact that Tuberville added two three-star running back recruits to the roster.

Taylor Boose - Freshman Running Back No. 24

The first of those three-star recruits is Boose, a 6-foot, 200-pound back from Virginia. He ranked as the No. 27 prospect in the state according to ESPN and was a top 100 running back in the 2015 class as well. He rushed for 1,302 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season and helped his high school (Centreville) win a state title in 2013. Boose lined up at running back and fullback in high school and has the tackle-shedding ability that comes with being a sizable back. He reminds me a bit of Eddie Lacy in how he runs, although that may have more to do with the outrageous number of mock fantasy drafts I've done recently.

Joshuwa Holloman - Freshman Running Back No. 34

The final running back on the roster, Holloman is also a three-star recruit out of high school. Hailing from Auburn Hills, Michigan, he was ranked No. 64 among running backs in the 2015 class by 247Sports. He was also tabbed as the No. 18 overall prospect in Michigan by ESPN. His career rushing numbers in high school are substantial (2,850 yards, 41 touchdowns) so he clearly has a nose for open spaces and the end zone. He could be a nice alternative to Boose's bruising style, as he was also a track star in high school.

It remains to be seen how each of the six backs will fit into the rotation. Boone, Williams and Green figure to get the bulk of the playing time, with Banschbach getting work here and there. Whether or not Tuberville will hope to strike gold with another rookie back remains to be seen, although hopefully injuries won't force his hand once again.