Previewing State's I-A OOC opponents, in order of appearance.
Returning Starters: 8
Dearly Departed: QB Tony Pike (2520 pass yards, 29 TD, 6 INT), WR Mardy Gilyard (87 rec, 1191 yds, 11 TD)
Cincinnati's offense was outstanding in 2009 by any measure: 11th in total offense, 2nd in yards per play, 11th in yards per pass attempt, 13th in yards per carry, 4th in scoring offense. The yards per play figure, 7.0, is particularly staggering. Before running into a supremely talented Florida Gators defense that dismantled the Bearcats by destroying them at the line of scrimmage, they never averaged fewer than 5.8 yards per snap in a game.
Their running backs collected a lot of dust but did fine work when called upon, the change-of-pace luxury afforded a team that threw the ball a ton and threw it really well. There was never any question what Cincinnati wanted to do, and that was let 6-6 quarterback Tony Pike throw the ball all over the place.
Pike wasn't always there, though. When he injured his wrist at South Florida in October, that game still in doubt, it looked as though their perfect season was in trouble. Who the heck is Zach Collaros?
As that highlight makes clear, Collaros's talents are a bit more wide-ranging. At six feet tall, he's less Tony Pike and more Russell Wilson. (He even played a season of college baseball!) Collaros finished the USF game, ultimately an easy 34-17 win, with 132 rushing yards; he finished the year with 344 and averaged six per carry. The Bearcats lost their marquee quarterback and somehow became scarier. Collaros would start the next for games, not the toughest of stretches by any means (Syracuse, Louisville, WVU, UConn), but the team kept winning. He could throw, too:
The worrisome fan might wonder about how much can really be gleaned from a mere month's worth of starts. Collaros was brilliant but how's he going to handle a full season? It's a brief track record, to be sure, but I think that when a guy plays that well, he renders all concerns minor.
Mardy Gilyard isn't around to help the cause, but every other significant pass catcher from 2009 returns. That includes receivers Armon Binns and D.J. Woods, who combined for 112 receptions, 1528 yards, and 15 TDs, and tight end Ben Guidugli, who caught 27 passes for 364 yards and three TDs.
Binns and Guidugli were all-conference selections, as were guards Alex Hoffman and Jason Kelce. Left tackle Samuel Griffin started 12 games in 2009. They should be okay up front barring injury.
Running back Isaiah Pead emerged as a sophmore last season, rushing for 806 yards on just 121 attempts, and figures to get the bulk of the work when Cincinnati chooses to hit unsuspecting defenses on the ground.
And as I mentioned last week, Collaros's transition to full-time starter should be an easy one under the circumstances: Butch Jones is intimately familiar with what the Bearcats do offensively and won't rock the boat. Collaros and the Cincinnati offense won't be burdened with wholesale change; rather, they'll be free to operate within the friendly confines of what they already know. Meet the new Death Machine, same as the old Death Machine.