With all due respect to the Florida State Seminoles, this is the marquee match up of Oklahoma's non-conference season. Sure the Bearcats are losing a lot of key players to graduation but they're still the defending Big East Champions, they finished last season ranked in the Top 10 and this will be the first road challenge for the Sooners.
The Cincinnati offense was a machine last season, scoring an average of 39.8 points per game while leading the Bearcats to a 12-1 record. Not only were they the top scoring offense in the Big East but they were also the top passing attack. Cincinnati averaged 320.8 passing yards per game with 39 passing touchdowns on the season to just 8 interceptions. On the ground they were effective but not dominant. They were a middle of the pack team in the Conference in rushing statistics with 143.9 yards per game and 23 rushing touchdowns.
Had the Bearcats been playing in the Big 12 in `09 they would have ranked fourth in scoring defense (sandwiched between Texas and Texas Tech) by allowing 20.8 points per game. They were tied with West Virginia for third in the Big East but less than a point per game off the average of second place Pittsburgh. Against the pass they were fourth in their conference, allowing 209.3 yards per game while opposing quarterbacks completed 61.5% of their passes for an average of 10.6 yards per completion. Against the rush it was a much different story. Cincinnati allowed opponents to run for an average of 141 yards per game which was next to last in their conference.
With a new coach and 11 starters gone from last year's squad we have no idea what to expect from this team in 2010. Here's what we do know.
There are some big shoes to fill in Cincinnati's offense in 2010. Tony Pike completed 62.4% of his passes last season for 2,520 yards and 29 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. Mardy Gilyard was the top quarterback target for the Bearcats last season. He recorded team highs in receptions (87), yards (1,191) and yards per catch (13.7).
If you're expecting a drastic drop in productivity from Cincinnati's offense in 2010 then you're most likely going to be surprised. This unit is both experienced and led by upperclassmen. Zach Collaros will step in for Tony Pike on a full time bases this season but when called upon last year he produced 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. He'll enter the season as the starter for the first time but he gained valuable starting experience last season when filling in for Pike. He also has the advantage of returning the team's leading rusher and second leading receiver from last year.
Isaiah Pead averaged 6.7 yards per carry last season while running for 806 yards and 9 scores. He also averaged 10 yards per reception while catching 20 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Armon Binns tied with Gilyard in touchdown receptions with 11 and averaged 68.3 receiving yards per game.
The Bearcats return three starters from an offensive line that gave up a total of 15 sacks last season and opened holes for a team rushing average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Going into last season Cincinnati had one returning starter on defense. In 2010 they'll lose their leading tackler in Andre Revels, their leader in tackles for loss in Ricardo Matthews and their sack leader in Alex Daniels. While there are several key losses on the Cincinnati defense there are more key personnel returning than what the Bearcats had to work with going into 2009.
It never hurts to have a returning starter on your defense who recorded 100 tackles in the previous year. That's what Cincinnati has in J.K. Schaffer who was second on the team in tackles in `09. They are also returning Derek Wolfe who was second on the team in sacks last season with 5 and Walter Stewart who was second on the team in tackles for loss with 8.5. Cincinnati gave up 36 points or more in four of their final five games but where fortunate enough to have the offense to out score UConn 47-47, Illinois 49-36, and Pittsburgh 45-44. It wasn't until they faced Florida in the Sugar Bowl that Cincinnati ran into a defense that was able to keep them from scoring at a pace that resembled something you'd see in an arena league. The result was a 51-24 blowout. How much Cincinnati will improve on defense under new coach Butch Jones will no doubt be tested when they play OU. If they're able to keep the Sooner offense at bay then we may be in for an epic defensive battle. However, should the Sooners find early offensive success then the Bearcats could be in for a long afternoon.