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TODAY at No. 45: CINCINNATI Coach: Tommy Tuberville (26-18, entering third season; 148-85 overall) 2014 record: 9-4, 7-1 in American Athletic Conference; tied for...

wisconsin pickTODAY at No. 45: CINCINNATI

Coach: Tommy Tuberville (26-18, entering third season; 148-85 overall)

2014 record: 9-4, 7-1 in American Athletic Conference; tied for first in AAC

Look back: Since 2007, Cincinnati has been one of the most stable college football programs in the country with a .721 winning percentage during the tenure of three different head coaches. The latest coach to lead the program is veteran Tommy Tuberville.

Last year, Cincinnati tied for first place in the league along with Memphis and UCF, taking a share of the Bearcats’ fifth title during the past eight seasons. After suffering losses to Ohio State, Memphis and Miami, Cincinnati bounced back to finish the regular season on a seven-game win streak. The Bearcats lost to Virginia Tech 33-17 in the Military Bowl.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 4

Defensive starters lost: 7

Key losses: DT Camaron Beard, DE Terrell Hartsfield, LB Nick Temple, LB Jeff Luc

Top returnees: QB Gunner Kiel, RB Mike Boone, WR Shaq Washington, DE Silverberry Mouhon, S Zach Edwards, CB Adrian Witty, K Andrew Gantz

Strengths: Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel was responsible for helping Cincinnati field one of the strongest passing games in college football. The Bearcats finished the 2014 season ranked No. 13 among 125-NCAA recognized FBS schools and Kiel tied a school record with 31 touchdown passes as a sophomore. Running backs Hosey Williams and Tion Green are expected to return after suffering injuries last season and Cincinnati is slated to get stronger at the defensive tackle position, an area in which the team struggled last season.

“We’re pretty good. We’re getting more of the type of players in here that fit what we want to do on offense and defense,” Tuberville told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ve got a good team but we need to take another step forward. We need to play better against some of the higher-ranked teams that we play. We need to finish stronger.”

Weaknesses: While Cincinnati gets Williams and Green back from injury, the lack of a true stand-out at the running back position could put more stress on the passing game and leave a more unbalanced offense. Losing three-time All-AAC left tackle Eric Lefeld could also compromise the pass-block game.

But the biggest question marks surround the Bearcats’ defense, which ranked No. 96 in total defense. Cincinnati lost seven defensive starters from 2014 and it will be a challenge to fill those holes.

Outlook: The continuity Cincinnati has experienced for nearly a decade should trump any questions about the running back position and overall defense. Expect the Bearcats to be contend for the league title as Tuberville looks to record his first 10-win season since 2006 when he lead Auburn to a Cotton Bowl victory to complete an 11-2 season.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Alabama A&M

Sept. 12 Temple

Sept. 19 at Miami (Ohio)

Sept. 24 at Memphis

Oct. 1 Miami

Oct. 16 at BYU

Oct. 24 UConn

Oct. 31 UCF

Nov. 7 at Houston

Nov. 14 Tulsa

Nov. 20 at USF

Nov. 28 at East Carolina

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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