Preview No. 4: Cincinnati Bearcats

This is the fourth in a series of articles previewing Ohio State’s 12 opponents for the 2014 season.

University of Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel photographed during the year's first football practice held at Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana on Monday. (Photo: Gary Landers/The Enquirer)

University of Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel photographed during the year’s first football practice held at Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana on Monday. (Photo: Gary Landers/The Enquirer)

On Sept. 27, Ohio State faces Cincinnati in a non-conference tilt at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on BTN.

Last Season:

The Bearcats went 9-4 overall and finished third in the American Athletic Conference with a 5-3 mark. The nine wins came against Purdue (42-7), Northwestern State (66-7), Miami University (14-0), Temple (38-20), UConn (41-16), Memphis (52-17), SMU (28-25), Rutgers (52-17) and Houston (24-17). The four losses were to Illinois (45-17), South Florida (26-20), Louisville (31-24, OT) and North Carolina (39-17) in the 2013 Belk Bowl in Charlotte.

History & Coaches:

The University of Cincinnati has a long history of intercollegiate football that dates back to 1885, though the Bearcats didn’t become relevant on the national scene for over a century until the late 1990s.

In the program’s history, Cincinnati is 580–558–51 (.509) overall with 12 conference titles – one in the Buckeye Intercollegiate Athletic Association, four in the Mid-American Conference, two in the Missouri Valley Conference, one in Conference USA, and four in the Big East Conference – with 14 bowl appearances.

In 1949, former Ohio State quarterback Sid Gillman became the 24th head coach at the University of Cincinnati after guiding rival Miami University for four seasons prior to his arrival in the Queen City.

During his six-year tenure at UC, Gillman led the Bearcats to a 50–13–1 overall mark with three Mid-American Conference titles and a berth in the 1951 Sun Bowl against West Texas State.

Gillman, though, left Cincinnati after the 1954 season to become the head coach for the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams.

Since then, there have been 15 different head coaches at Cincinnati in the last 59 years. Only one, Rick Minter, stayed longer than six seasons, who was at the helm from 1994-2003, but he finished with a losing record (54–63–1).

Needless to say, Cincinnati has been a revolving door of coaches for several decades who have either move on to bigger and better programs, or met their fate with a pink slip.

In December of 2003, the University of Cincinnati hired Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Danotnio has its next head coach, who went on to spend three seasons leading the Bearcats to an 18-17 overall record.

On November 27, 2006, Dantonio was hired at Michigan State. One week later, the UC administration hired Central Michigan’s Brian Kelly as their next head coach. Kelly stuck around for four seasons and had much success going 34-6 overall with three bowl appearances, two of which were the BCS variety.

But like everyone else, Kelly left for greener pastures and was hired by Notre Dame, leaving the UC administration to once again looked north to Mount Pleasant and hired Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones, who stayed for three seasons and went 23-14 before bolting for Tennessee.

In search of another coach, the University of Cincinnati went out and hired Tommy Tuberville from Texas Tech, who replaced the popular but ousted Mike Leach. Tuberville was not highly regarded by Red Raider fans in Lubbock, and he was looking to get out.

Offense:

Last season, the Bearcats were ranked 47th in scoring offense out of the 123 teams in Division I FBS football averaging 32.1 points per game, and 23rd in total offense averaging 472.1 yards per contest.

Senior quarterback Munchie Legaux began the 2013 campaign as the starter, but suffered a gruesome knee injury in the second game of the season against Illinois and missed the remainder of the year as well as spring practice. He’s still battling back from the injury.

“I’d say he’s about 80 percent, maybe closer to 90 physically,” Tuberville said of Legaux. “I think he’s got a chance to be close to 100 percent by the time we get to the bottom line at the end of the year, but most of it is going to depend on him.”

With Legaux not ready to good, next in line is sophomore Gunner Kiel and junior college transfer Jarred Evans.

Kiel, who was rated as the No. 1 pro-style passer by Rivals.com for the class of 2012 coming out of Columbus East High School in Indiana, has had a long, strange journey to Cincinnati.

Before his senior year of high school, Kiel committed to Indiana and head coach Kevin Wilson. But after the Hoosiers limped to a 1-6 record, Kiel reopened his recruitment by taking visits to several schools before committing to LSU in December of 2011. Less than a month later, Kiel decommitted from LSU and verballed to Notre Dame.

Kiel was an early enrollee at Notre Dame and arrived on campus in January of 2012. As a freshman, Kiel was fourth on the depth chart behind Everett Golson, Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix and was redshirted. By the end of the freshman year, Kiel wanted out. His first and only stop that spring was Cincinnati.

At the age of 21, Kiel has yet to throw as pass in a college football game.

The Bearcats return their top three rushers from last season with senior running back Hosey Williams (115 att., 655 yds., 5.7 avg., 4 TDs), senior Ralph Abernathy (132 att., 518 yds., 3.9 avg., 5 TDs), and junior Tion Green (91 att., 412 yards, 4.5 avg., 7 TDs.). Two of the top pass-catchers also return with senior wide receiver Shaq Washington (77 rec., 785 yards, 1 TD) and junior WR Chris Moore (45 rec. 645 yds., 9 TDs).

Cincinnati boasts a two-time, first-team all-conference pick on the offensive line as senior OT Eric Lefeld returns. Lefeld was a unanimous selection to the American Athletic Conference all-conference team last year.

Defense:

As a unit, the Bearcats were 14th in scoring defense in FBS football allowing 21.0 points per game, and ninth in total defense yielding 315.6 yards per outing.

Cincinnati’s defense has experience across the board, with multiple starters returning on the line, in the backfield and at linebacker. The Bearcats, though, do lose three all-conference performers from last year with DT Jordan Stepp, LB Greg Blair, and CB Deven Drane.

Junior defensive end Silverberry Mouhon registered a team-high 9.5 sacks last year to place third in The American while earning second-team all-conference honors. Senior linebacker Nick Temple, who made 80 tackles with 5.5 sacks in 2013, is the top returning tackler from last season.

Six of the top eight players on the depth chart return in the secondary as senior cornerback Howard Wilder, senior safety Adrian Witty, and sophomore safety Zach Edwards are returning starters in the defensive backfield. Edwards was third in the team in tackles with 73 and tied for second with two interceptions.