Expectations are difficult. Expecting an American Athletic Conference title last year haunted the Cincinnati Bearcats throughout the season. Even if those predictions didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get up and try again. After all, as Susan Walker said, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again or cut ties and join the Big 12.” I may have made up that last bit.
Ross Trail will start at least once
Even though Hayden Moore was named the starter last week, Trail’s season will not be spent entirely on the bench. With the potential Trail has, Tommy Tuberville will likely be tempted to give him a shot at some point. That is especially true if Moore gets injured or struggles. This prediction is helped out by the fact that Trail and not last year’s starter Gunner Kiel was listed second on the depth chart.
Mike Boone will record more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage
For a team that burns up the field offensively, the Bearcats don’t usually have a player that carries the bulk of the load alone. UC has not gotten at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage from a player since 2012 when George Winn had 1,462. Boone is going to end that streak. With least year’s leading rusher Hosey Williams gone, Boone and Tion Green are going to be given more work or at least they should be. This is especially true for Boone, who is easily the most explosive player on the roster. He averaged 7.2 yards per touch last season and ranked first among UC running backs in yards from scrimmage (857) despite ranking behind Green and Williams in touches. If his workload increases even a little bit, he will bust through that 1,000-yard wall.
DJ Dowdy will be the first tight end since Travis Kelce to have at lest 300 yards receiving
300 yards may not sound like much of an accomplishment but for a UC tight end, it really is, especially in the Tuberville era. Aside from Travis Kelce’s 722-yard season in 2012, a UC tight end has not had more than 200 receiving yards in the last six years. Dowdy only managed 104 yards receiving last season, but he is the third-leading returning receiver in 2016 and could really break out this season.
Cincinnati will lead the AAC in offense again
There is only one team that has ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in total offense in each of the first three seasons of the AAC’s existence. Want to guess who it is?
The Bearcats led the league a year ago with 6,992 yards (537.8 yards per game). Tulsa, which came in second, averaged 30 yards fewer per game. Even with a rebuilt receiving corps and a new regime at quarterback, the Bearcats’ scheme alone will keep its yardage in the stratosphere.
Cincinnati will rank in the top three in the AAC in third down conversion rate
Just like it has ranked highly in the AAC in total offense during the last three seasons, UC has shown a consistency on third down to rival anyone in the league. It led the conference last season (51.2 percent) and ranked third in each of the previous two seasons. Expect this trend to continue.
Kahlil Lewis will lead the team in receiving yards
Nate Cole is the top returning receiver, but Lewis is the player with the most potential. The former three-star recruit had only three receptions last season, but he averaged 17.7 yards per catch, buoyed by a 41-yard grab against UCF. Lewis is the Bearcats next star wideout.
Hayden Moore will throw for more than 3,000 yards
He’s the Bearcats starter and therefore, he will be throwing for a metric ton of yards. Even if Trail does start a game or two, Moore will be given every opportunity to throw, as UC’s offense is built on getting the ball into the air. Boone and Green may eat into that work a little bit, as a new receiving corps finds its bearings, but Tuberville has shown he has confidence in Moore. Kiel threw for 3,254 yards in 2014 and 2,777 last season with Moore nipping at his heels. Assuming he stays healthy, Moore will do that, if not more.
Eric Wilson will lead the team in tackles
A linebacker has led the Bearcats in tackles in every year since 2008. Wilson topped the team a year ago, racking up 106 stops. Safety Zach Edwards will give him a run for his money (and may reach 100 tackles himself), but Wilson will bring down the most opponents of any player on the UC roster.
Landon Brazile will lead the team in sacks
With only 13 sacks last season, UC ranked at the very bottom of the AAC in the category. Improving the pass rush will be a major priority in 2016. Although Mark Wilson and Kimoni Fitz are currently the starters at defensive end, Brazile may force himself into a starting job if he keeps playing like he did in the spring and in fall camp.
Cincinnati will have two players on the All-AAC first team
Last year, I had as many players on the All-AAC first team as the Bearcats did. Failing to miss lofty preseason expectations and consistently losing tight games will do that to a team. This year, UC may not be launching itself into the College Football Playoff or racking up double digit wins, but it will improve. If that occurs, the Bearcats can expect to get a couple players some conference honors. Safe money is on kicker Andrew Gantz and Boone.
BONUS: Cincinnati will win eight games including a bowl
The Bearcats haven’t won a bowl game since Tuberville took over, losing each of the last three. Last season’s 42-7 loss to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl was a particularly tough one to take. A tough stretch in October and a difficult game against Houston will make the regular season a slog, but the Bearcats can scratch out seven wins, get themselves to a bowl and win in the postseason for the first time under Tuberville. (Maybe that last part is a bit more wishful thinking than I’d like).