A preseason without predictions is like a great meal without an appetizer. Sure, you are still going to eat well and be full (college football is pretty fun after all), but you’re missing out on those fun tidbits at the beginning.
Down the Drive’s official stance on appetizers (and predictions) is pro. So grab your mozzarella sticks and steamed mussells and feast on these predictions for the 2017 Cincinnati Bearcats.
1. Luke Fickell will get American Athletic Conference coach of the year votes
He’s not going to win it. A brilliant rise to eight or nine wins and contention in the AAC title chase is the dream, but its just that, a dream. The Bearcats may be headed in a better direction under Fickell, but they are not ready to climb the mountain they fell down under Tommy Tuberville just yet.
With that written, expect UC to really turn things around, especially on defense, and play with increased intensity and efficiency. While the award will end up going to someone like USF’s Charlie Strong or Memphis’ Mike Norvell, Fickell will still get some love for the work he does in making UC look like it actually knows what its doing.
2. Hayden Moore will start every game
Fickell strikes me as a guy that sticks to his gut and Moore was his choice to be the starter at quarterback. A year ago, the Bearcats offense was pretty awful and there’s no question that the game of musical chairs at quarterback was a factor. Moore, Ross Trail and Gunner Kiel all started at least one game in 2016. Part of the reason Moore was sidelined was an injury and now that he is 100 percent healthy, he will have all the chance in the world to take this role by the horns.
Moore is in a new offense and one that should allow him to succeed at a higher level. Plus, since he’s a junior, its not as if he won’t be part of the program in 2018, when a real leap will be expected. Making sure the offense is clicking this year will be a major imperative for the program going forward. Having zero controversy at quarterback next summer will help and the only way for that to happen is for Moore to start every game.
That doesn’t mean Ross Trail won’t get some time near the end of the season or in blowout losses (or wins, but more likely losses), but that should be just to rest Moore and see what Trail has to offer as a backup.
3. Mike Boone will rush for 1,000 yards
It hasn’t happened since 2012 but Boone is going to be the first Bearcat since that season to rush past the century mark. He is backed up by some promising prospects, but Boone should be given a giant workload in 2017, especially if the Bearcats go at an up-tempo pace, which is expected. Boone will easily get past 1,000 yards from scrimmage, as he should be touching the ball constantly, but his primary work will be done on the ground. With a return toward his performance in 2014 and 2015, getting to 1,000 yards should be a given.
4. Kevin Mouhon will have the most sacks by a Bearcat since 2014
Terrell Hartsfield had 9.0 sacks in 2014. The last two sacks leaders for UC (Eric Wilson and Silverberry Mouhon) combined for 7.5. Kevin Mouhon will eclipse that total and threaten to get to the double digit mark. He’s already proven that he can create negative plays (9.5 tackles for loss in 2016) and with a new, aggressive defensive style, he should be able to turn more of those into quarterback takedowns.
5. The Bearcats will have four first-team All-AAC players (Boone, Mouhon, Cortez Broughton, Korey Cunningham)
Boone will be the feature back in an improved offense and with his skill set, has all the potential to put forth a season that merits recognition. If Mouhon becomes the sack-master general that he has the potential to be, he’ll be threatening Shaquem Griffin of UCF for more than just an All-AAC spot. Those two picks are actually the more risky ones, as Broughton and Cunningham are two of the best in the conference in the trenches (Broughton on defense and Cunningham on offense) already.
6. R.J. Potts will be the UC freshman everybody is talking about
The Bearcats are thin at linebacker, with Jaylyin Minor and Perry Young the only established players for the group. That means younger guys are going to have to step up and if there’s one player who has the best chance at doing that as a true freshman its Potts. Fickell is a former defensive coordinator and with Marcus Freeman (a former linebacker) filling that role on the staff, extra emphasis will be put on this positional group. That type of tutelage should do wonders for the four-star recruit.
7. UC will win five games
Sorry this doesn’t read “UC will make a bowl game.” I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m too low on this team, but with the loss of key guys like Tion Green and Eric Wilson added to the fact that the team is learning in a new system, even if it is a better one, there isn’t going to be an immediate return to the postseason. I still think the Bearcats will be better, and I expect them to upset a team (Temple on Nov. 10), but they’ll (barely) miss the postseason. In 2018 though...