Previewing State's I-A OOC opponents, in order of appearance.
(Mark Dantonio, 2004-2006., 2006 International Bowl-2009)
Cincinnati's unprecedented success in recent years is not just the mark of Brian Kelly, who was on hand for the Leap, received a ton of credit and attention and the shot at the big time that tends to come with such skyrocketing stock. The program has been building to this point since the start of the decade, when Rick Minter laid the foundation by establishing a consistent winner in Conference USA. Minter, who was a position coach under Monte Kiffin at NC State, led the Bearcats to three consecutive bowl games before eventually giving way to Mark Dantonio. Dantonio oversaw the school's transition into the Big East, and although they endured a bit of a hiccup in that first season in the Big East, Dantonio kept the momentum going, maintaining the program's competitiveness despite a step up in competition. Brian Kelly was blessed with consistently excellent quarterback play, something his predecessors couldn't assume, and with that, the Bearcats joined the nation's elite.
Considering the program's recent history, the task for new head coach Butch Jones is not a new one. His long term impact, how he handles the apparently detrimental fact that he isn't Brian Kelly, remains to be seen. But he is arguably in a better position for immediate success than any of his predecessors, and at least in terms of identifying a guy who is familiar with Cincinnati's formula for success and fits right in schematically, Cincinnati could hardly have done better.
After all, this isn't the first time Jones has replaced Kelly. Jones took over for Kelly at Central Michigan in 2007 and won a pair of MAC titles in three years thanks to a high-powered spread offense led by an all-conference quarterback. All of which will sound very familiar to UC fans. His work at CMU is a comforting precedent, the sign of a coach who, at the very least, is capable of stepping in and not messing anything up.
Whether "not messing anything up" means keeping those BCS bowls coming, well, who knows. That's probably unrealistic. What appears fairly certain, though, is that as long as Zach Collaros is under center--and for another two seasons, he will be--they're going to be in the conversation.