The college football offseason is a magical time of year for sports fans. There is the frustration of not having any live games to watch, but at the same time an underlying optimism that almost every fan base feels. Because right now everyone is undefeated and the 2014 season is full of possibilities. Take for example the UC Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled last year under first-year coach Tommy Tuberville, but that struggle resulted in a 9-4 record.
That's a respectable record for almost any other team in college football except the top tier names like Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State ..... and Cincinnati? In fact, last year was only the second time in seven years that the Bearcats didn't win 10 games. The last time was under Butch Jones during his first season. That sounds pretty elite. If you're not a fan of the Bearcats, don't worry. We'll be covering reasons for every American team this offseason. Some just might not be as believable as others. (Looking at you, SMU)
10: The offensive line returns three starters and unlike the second half of 2013, will have some youth and health to keep going. Most of UC's problems last year started with the O-line and the injuries. By the time the Belk Bowl rolled around, a majority of the line was injured.
9: Tuberville's better understanding of the roster. The UC coach has had time to understand his inherited players' strengths and that's one reason Ralph David Abernathy IV will be at WR instead of running his tiny under-sized frame up the middle in 2014.
8: UC has a schedule that will challenge them very early and likely prepare them for the gauntlet of conference play. With both Ohio State and Miami (FL) on the 2014 slate, UC will be playing against some of the toughest competition in football before they even get into the meat of AAC play.
7: The Bearcats have been playing at a higher level of football for several years now, but will be facing what is mostly a reconfigured Conference USA schedule. That isn't to say the American doesn't have some tough teams, but Cincinnati should not be challenged very much in league play with a couple exceptions.
6: Louisville is out of the picture. For most of their time together in the Big East and American, Louisville was one of the biggest challenges for the Bearcats. Unlike the rest of the conference, the two schools shared so much history that every game was a heated rivalry game that in recent years almost always went into overtime. That's one obstacle gone.
5: Cincinnati's biggest conference challenge of the year isn't until their last game of the season. By then, UC should have established itself and found its identity. There really isn't anyone else that stands in the way of Cincinnati besides the Cougars since the Bearcats don't play UCF this season and the Knights lost most of their talent anyways (see #2).
4: Tommy Tuberville is a proven winner. Tuberville is the first coach that's come to Cincinnati with a track record of winning at the highest level of the sport. If going 9-4 in your first season with a banged up offensive line is any sign of things to come, Cincinnati should start making room for another conference championship trophy.
3: Reason number three? Gunner Kiel. Kiel threw for 300 yards and looked smooth and relaxed running Cincinnati's first-team offense during the Bearcats' spring game. Most of the questions surrounding the 6'4", Notre Dame transfer have been answered with his play so far in practice. He's got the size and arm strength to be considered the biggest QB upgrade at UC since Tony Pike took over as the starter for Grutza in 2007.
2: UCF has lost both the running game and passing game that helped them win the American Athletic Conference title last year, which opens the door up for the Bearcats to win another conference championship, their fifth in eight seasons.
1: This one is a little superstitious, but that's part of sports right? The last time the Bearcats didn't win 10 games (2010), they returned to form and won the conference title the next season under their second-year coach. Tuberville is now entering his second season at UC and coming off of a season with less than 10 wins (9 wins). If you're a superstitious fan, you'll agree with number one. (But 10 through 2 probably have more impact)
* - Bowl Eligible
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