In 2018, the Bearcats won 11 games with one of the country’s youngest roster. With more experience and higher expectations, here’s a look at the four most important players to the Bearcats success in 2019.
1. Michael Warren II, RB
This one feels kind of obvious. Warren ran for over 100 yards in 7 of the 12 games he played and scored a TD in 10 of 12 games. He was 12th in overall rushing yards (1,329) and was 4th in the country with 19 touchdowns. Warren fueled the success of the entire offense last year. When he got going, it made Desmond Ridder more comfortable and more confident.
The return of Gerrid Doaks, 2017 leading rusher, and the eventual return of Tavion Thomas, will help keep Warren fresh coming off a 244 carry season.
2. Jakari Robinson, OC
Robinson was forced into action last season due to an injury to center Garrett Campbell and started 6 games. That experience will help Robinson as a leader of this Offensive Line. In order for Warren to have success and for Ridder to continue his development, he must be protected and it starts with Robinson’s guidance and leadership.
There are two new freshman starters on the OL - Jeremy Cooper at guard and Lorenz Metz at LT. Plus, there’s a 29 year old hockey player (Morgan James) and RT Chris Ferguson, who didn’t play football until 2015. There is a lot of potential on this OL, and as the center, it will be up to Robinson to keep everyone calm and organized under pressure.
3. James Smith, punter
It’s not often that a punter makes a list of the most important players on a team, but it’s not often that a team has a punter with the talent of James Smith. Smith has been named a Second team All-American by a number of outlets (AP, Sporting News, CBS) and was the runner up for the Ray Guy Award in 2018 (given to the nation’s top punter). The offense is immediately better when your punter pins the other team deep into their own territory and the defense gets off the field quickly. The defense was ranked 5th in third down conversions, allowing teams to convert only 28% of the time (55 times out of 194 attempts).
4. Perry Young, LB
Young’s return from injury is great news for Cincinnati. He was second on the team in tackles in 2017 (101) and was on pace to break 100 again in 2018 before an injury ended his season early. Linebackers are a major strength of the Bearcats defense, led by Perry Young and joined by Bryan Wright, Darrian Beavers, and Jarrell White.