BIGEAST.org will be previewing all eight BIG EAST teams leading up to the start of the season. Team previews will be released in inverse order of the preseason media poll - today's preview will be of the Cincinnati Bearcats, who were picked fourth.
Cincinnati has won at least a share of the BIG EAST title three times in the last four years.
The Bearcats more than doubled their win total from the previous season in 2011, going from 4-8 in 2010 to 10-3 in 2011.
Head coach Butch Jones was chosen as the 2011 BIG EAST Coach of the Year.
The Bearcats will have to replace players who were named BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year (RB Isaiah Pead) and BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year (DT Derek Wolfe).
QB Munchie Legaux, who came off the bench last season, is expected to take over for Zach Collaros, a two-time All-BIG EAST selection and three-year starter.
The only returning starters on offense are on the line (OG Austen Bujnoch, OT Sean Hooey, OT Eric Lefeld) and at wide receiver (WR Anthony McClung, WR Kembrell Thompkins).
McClung had a team-leading 49 receptions and six touchdown catches last season, while Thompkins had 44 catches and two TDs.
RB George Winn (219 yards, 2 TDs in 2011) is the team’s top returning rusher.
Cincinnati returns seven starters from last year’s defense. Each of the seven will enter 2012 as at least a third-year starter.
Cincinnati led the nation in tackles for loss (8.9 per game) and sacks (3.6 per game) last season. The Bearcats led the BIG EAST in turnover margin (+0.9 per game).
Cincinnati returns three of its four starters in the defensive secondary, highlighted by SS Drew Frey, an All-BIG EAST First Team selection in 2011.
The Bearcats return all three starters at linebacker — LB Maalik Bomar, LB Walter Stewart and LB Nick Temple.
P Pat O’Donnell was an All-BIG EAST First Team selection last year after he led the league in punting (43.9 ypp).
WR Ralph David Abernathy IV had more than 1,000 yards on kickoff returns (1,034) and was second on the team in all-purpose yardage.