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August 2012 Archives

Bearcats Breakfast 8.30.12

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Spent some time at practice yesterday and UC shifted its focus primarily to game night situations. They ran through the details all the way down to where everyone stands on the sidelines.

The bottom line is UC will not have the tune-up game opportunity Pitt enjoys this weekend. That will be a disadvantage, there is no way around that particularly with 65 first- and second-year players.

An adage across college football and one I've heard come out of Butch Jones mouth many times is that most progress is made from Game 1 to Game 2. The Panthers, with a first-year head coach, will benefit.

Jones and the Bearcats do their best to duplicate chaotic situations and pressure plays during practice, but there is no telling how kids will react under the lights.

"(Pitt) has already been through all the game management situations, that is a tremendous challenge," Jones said. "Having the right guys on the field -- eleven guys on the field, your different situational football."

Jones said he's added slightly more substitution work lately to compensate for the lack of a game and high number of young players this weekend, but for the most part practice followed the same model as in past years.

One more interesting comment Jones made in regards to the game was admitting Pitt has been his pick to win the conference.

"You look at their football team, it's comprised of the most Top 50 football players in the conference," he said. "The expert in Kirk Herbstreit picked them to win the Big East conference, which really, they've been my pick. They are an extremely talented football team and we have to play well. We'll know more of exactly where we are at after the game Thursday night."

Indeed.

Let's eat...

--- Great night for Bearcats in the NFL. First off, Isaiah Pead enjoyed his best night as a member of the Rams. He rushed 10 times for 58 yards including runs of 28 and 14 yards. He struggled to find openings through the first three games, but found a rhythm in the final shot.

JK Schaffer is going to make the Jaguars today, it appears. CBSSports.com and SBNation both say so. And if there were any doubt, Schaffer put the exclamation point on a great preseason with an interception last night.

Here is video of the JK pick.

Making an NFL team as an undrafted free agent isn't easy, but nobody that reads this blog blinks an eye in surprise.
gilyard.jpg
Mardy Gilyard may finally be figuring out what it takes in the NFL. His will be a name to watch as cuts fall today. He had five receptions for 71 yards and a TD last night. The BearEagles could be adding another if he survives.

It's no secret Gilyard struggled to find himself in the league, but his talent is no secret around here as well. Perhaps he needed a little humbling to hit his stride.

By the way, Adrien Robinson caught two passes for 24 yards Wednesday night for the Giants.

--- Break up UConn. Oh wait, they played UMass. Nix the breaking.

--- What do you guys think of the new site? RIP my old bald man sketch. Now, nobody will think I'm a 55-year-old retiree. (Truth: I'm 31 and don't have giant sketched scars on the side of my face)

--- The Afterhours promotion appeared to be a huge success last night, sources say the phones were ringing off the hook. Way to come through Bearcats fans.

--- I discussed the Take the Field videos yesterday after the post from BearcatsNation. I can only say that I have now seen an exclusive sneak peak of the 2012 edition. All I'll say is it's strong and absolutely will challenge for the title of best at Nippert.

--- We've talked quite a bit about the running backs and possible rotation here and Bill Koch put together this piece on the rock of the rotation George Winn.

Talked with OC Mike Bajakian about how the running back situation panned out entering game week. He offered this assessment:

"We're happy with all those guys. George Winn continues to be the rock of the group as the fifth-year senior whose got the most experience, a good sized back whose physical in his style of play. The other guys have come along. Jameel Poteat has come along, Ralph David Abernathy, Deionte Buckley, the list goes on, they've continued to progress.

"They all have their strengths and weaknesses, it's the tricky part with any position or players. Whether multiple guys competing for playing time or multiple guys, the tricky part for coaches is how to utilize their talents."


--- Some randomness...

--- Starting in October, the final season of the Jersey Shore will air. Yes, it's still on. If I told you I still watch, would you judge me? Don't answer that.

--- Brutal missed PI call to cinch loss for Vandy vs. South Carolina last night.

--- College football sets the bar high for dumbest play of the season on Day 1. Was anybody on the field doing the right thing? I mean one single player?

--- When you go live next to a baby Rhino, you got to know this will happen. In fact, I'd call it best case scenario for the viewer.

--- It's the 25th Anniversary of Street Fighter.
Apparently there are now 66 playable characters in the SF universe. The game also produced the nerdiest moment of the century.

--- Wish I was in Philly this weekend. Jay-Z and Pearl Jam headline the Made In America Festival. That's about as good a 1-2 combo as you are going to get. Would be even better if Hova went Unplugged. Have a great weekend everybody. Game week is upon us.



Bearcats Breakfast 8.29.12

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One. More. Week.

The rest of college football celebrates the open of the season tonight, but Bearcats fans can rest easy knowing one of the coolest moments of the year will happen in seven days.

There's nothing like opening day, but nothing comes close to opening night on national TV against a rival.

Even better news is Pitt couldn't even sell out their mandated allotment of tickets to the game and turned a bunch back over to UC. And the Bearcats ticket office is giving back to you with an awesome deal tonight only.

It's called Bearcats Afterhours which begs a vision of Butch Jones in front of a fireplace with a smoking jacket and his feet up sipping Courvoisier.

Jones will be there for some of the time, sans Afterhours stereotype, helping to answer phones. The lines will be open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. as they sell the tickets to the opener for $22 and a $15 parking pass that include tickets to the Delaware St. game or basketball exhibition opener, plus four tickets to any Olympic sport event on campus.

Plus, no fees when calling in tonight. Love how the marketing folks are doing stuff like this when opportunities arise. Hope those of you who haven't planned to be in the house Thursday take advantage.

Let's eat...

--- While we're talking tickets, season ticket holders get the first shot at Crosstown Classic tickets. You should see that offer showing up momentarily. I'd expect nearly every ST holder to take advantage. Make a reservation at one of the fine Banks establishments now and enjoy a great night in the new Cincinnati.

Love this city more and more every day.

--- Great post by Bearcats Nation ranking all the recent UC football intro videos. The video folks over at UC always do a great job and rile the heck out of 35k.

I'll give my vote to the 2009 "Welcome to the Show" as my favorite. Not to mention UC never lost when it played. Looking forward to seeing what they've got in store next week.



--- Big East ESPN blog posted its predictions for the first weekend in the Big East. The conference will have games on Thursday-Sunday. While all the advertising revenue racks up, lost in the opening weekend will be the opening of the negotiating window with ESPN. Likely, Nov. 1 will be a bigger date to watch when the negotiations open up to the market it the BE and ESPN can't make it happen.

--- UC will be watching Pitt-Youngstown State (6pm, ESPN3) closely. First game under a new coach falls under the first season under a new coach theory. Rare is the first-year coach who strides purposely out of the gates. Particularly one installing a much more complicated system.

Drawing Pitt early in the season while a team made by four other coaches reacts to the fifth won't evolve without bumps in the road. The Bearcats just hope Nippert Stadium is a boulder.

--- Pitt Blather bemoans Chryst's lack of specific goal setting, at least publicly.  

--- Down the Drive makes a case for Nick Temple as a key to the season defensively. I'd place the key on Jordan Stepp or some combination being solid up the middle, but Temple can certainly build the profile of the defense, but he'll be fighting blockers on the second level all year if the defensive tackles struggle to hold their ground.

--- Randomness...

--- Apparently the best place to live if you are young is where nobody can find you. Good luck convincing a 23-year-old they need to live in North Dakota.

--- Panorama from the Mars rover are mesmerizing. Awesome.

--- Breaking out End of the Road at the local Karaoke night might not be advisable. Unless you are Charles Barkley. And you bring out Boyz II Men to back you.

Subnote: Boyz II Men is so broke and bored they are showing up at events like this and sharing the stage with Chuck? I'll always have a special place for the Boyz, but they are one church festival away from making me turn in my cassette tapes.

--- Sports Pickle breaks out the conference slogans for the year. I'll stand by the Big 12 as my favorite: "Our shiny new thing is West Virginia. Oh, shut up."

--- FX ordered 90 episodes of Charlie Sheen's Anger Management? Ryan Howard's contract thinks that might not end well.

--- Classic Price is Right episode I can get behind. Our guy Bob better be there.

--- Not a big Barenaked Ladies fan,
but this song fits today. Have a great one.



Butch Jones officially named Munchie Legaux the starting quarterback against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The announcement didn't elicit surprise or drama but did come with substance. Legaux earned the spot not only with what he showed the final three games of last season but his work mentally, physically and as a leader in the offseason.

MunchieLegaux.jpgHere are the four reasons taking the field with Legaux made sense:

1. Confidence. Standing behind the sidelines at a recent Bearcats practice, I overheard Legaux talking with his offensive teammates as a drill suddenly called for the first-team offense to enter. He led with swagger and repeated that these are the playmakers. They won't be stopped. His teammates responded to the confidence. They believe in him because they've seen him do it. You can't take the field against Pitt without it.

2. Experience. There is no tune-up game. There will be no time for trial and error. On ESPN on Thursday night football a conference, rivalry and national showcase game will strike. This team needs a player who knows the field, whose led teams into hostile environments and felt the pressure of the main stage. Though only for three games, Legaux won't be consumed by the lights. That's the one unknown with Brendon Kay. He may be able to make every throw in practice, but nobody knows how he would respond when the red light glows off the cameras.

3. Skill set. The offense fit the skills of Zach Collaros last season. He scrambled, but thrived as a quick decision-maker in the pocket. Kay fits more to that mold. Legaux, however, showcases an ability to beat teams with his legs and arm. The offense this year can be built to more allow for that ability to shine. Jones and OC Mike Bajakian love to make teams cover every corner of the field. Adding Legaux gives more play-calling threats in different areas.

4. Chemistry. The Bearcats need a potent WR-QB connection and Legaux-Anthony McClung could be the next great one at UC. The roommates hooked up eight times for 142 yards in the season finale and boast an unspoken connection so valuable on the field. For a young offense searching for a calling card they can dial in critical situations, they know these two can deliver.

Bearcats Breakfast 8.28.12

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We'd like to take this break in your regularly scheduled football preview blogs to discuss the 7-foot-1 man ducking under doorways at Fifth Third Arena.

His name is David Nyarsuk. Cheikh Mbodj should probably give him a hug. Kelvin Gaines should probably give him a hug. And Mick Cronin should definitely give him a hug.

Nyarsuk, a 230-pound center from the Sudan, will provide a welcome relief on the inside for Mbodj, Gaines and Justin Jackson as they attempt to replace the minutes of Yancy Gates. Much of that job looked to be entrusted to Mbodj, who despite his dynamic weight loss and fit look, shouldn't be asked to play 32-35 minutes per game in the run-and-gun style.

If Nyarsuk lives up to his reputation (second in the nation in blocks per game at 2.8 last year at NAIA Mountain State), he will supplement the interior presence, keep everyone fresh and stretch that wingspan in front of the basket daring anyone to shoot over it.

Andy Katz of ESPN leads his 3-point shot talking about the addition and plops onto the end UC is a Top 25 team and Big East top four contender.

Mike DeCourcy talks about who Cronin dubs an "all-work/no-play" big man.

Bill Koch spoke with Mick, who points out Nyarsuk hit 70 percent of his free throws. How's that for the tallest player in UC history?

Where did Nyarsuk come from this late in the process? Well, read Dan Hoard's excellent, thorough piece on the new UC big man.

Facts plucked from Dan's story and other spots you need to know:

-- He's an athletic 7-foot-1.

-- Was the 18th-rated center in his high school class in 2010 according to ESPN. Who was rated one point above him? Louisville's Gorgui Dieng (anything in the area of Dieng's contribution for the Cardinals last year would place UC among the most dangerous in college hoops)

-- Averaged 10.8, 8.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in two seasons.

-- He's an athletic 7-foot-1.

-- In one game against D-I competition last year, he dominated the paint in a victory against Morehead State.

-- Originally committed to West Virginia, but endured eligibility issues.

-- Hey, did you hear? He's an athletic 7-foot-1.

The depth adds for a team Cronin wants to run 10-11 players deep, much as he did in 2011 with nearly two full teams swapping in and out.

Not doing so at this point would be a mistake. Consider the depth:

Sean Kilpatrick: Possible first-team All-Big East player. In the conversation for preseason player of the year options.

Cashmere Wright: Coming off a season where he set a new record for steals and one of the premier point guards in the country in his senior year.

JaQuon Parker: Invaluable glue guy, Jon Rothstein calls him "pound-for-pound, toughest player in college hoops."

Jermaine Sanders: By all accounts, one of the most improved players on the team. Reports indicate Sanders has been tearing it up this summer and his game will be almost unrecognizable compared to what he was last year.

Shaq Thomas: The top prospect out of last year's recruiting class with a year of practice polish. Tall, athletic wing this team lacked at times last year. Explosive.

Titus Rubles: He's looked so good since arriving as a JuCo transfer, there's been rumbling he could start. Will make major contribution.

Justin Jackson: #JustinJacksonMeanFace

Cheikh Mbodj: Slimmed down and returned the lift that drew Cronin to him in the first place. No longer slowed by injury that limited his contribution last year.

David Nyarsuk: See above.

Jermaine Davis III: Need a 3? Developing into a solid contributor off the bench last year and not afraid to fire a shot, no matter how big the spot.

Ge'Lawn Guyn: Cash's backup who came into his own as the season progressed. Versatile, can play off the ball and did many times alongside Wright last year.

Yeah, that's 11 players who nobody would have a problem seeing on the floor and all can run it with the best of them. There will be few teams more exciting to watch than what the Bearcats will be sprinting up and down the floor with this winter. Enjoy.

Moving on, let's eat...

--- Did you know there are 22 former Bearcats in the NFL right now? Here's an update on how they've all been doing in the preseason.

--- Butch Jones will announce the starting QB following today's practice. As always, for UC football updates, follow me on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.

--- Nippert Stadium is the best in the Big East according to USA Today. Obviously not news to students who wrapped around into Nippert waiting in line to grab tickets for the Pitt game. Sales are above the pace of last year's Thursday night game against N.C. State.

That place should be jammin.

--- Ray Graham is currently a game-time decision for Pitt's game against Youngstown State. Wouldn't be surprised if they gave him a few series until the Panthers got up big then rested him for the UC game. He's still not at 100 percent yet, according to reports.

--- Some randomness...

--- Jerry Jones raps. We all lose.

--- Madden 13 looks freaking awesome. Might be time to bring my thumbs out of retirement.

--- The poodle moth. Frightening.

--- For those of you who are Flight of the Conchords fans as I am, they are back. Well, for 14 minutes at least. They took part in a New Zealand fundraiser with this 14-minute YouTube clip. Standard hilarity.

--- Kelsey Grammar wasn't real keen on his last marriage.

--- Only four more days until the weekend and for anybody having a rough day, take the Hard Knocks approach and let this jam seep into your soul.




In college basketball, athletic seven-footers are hard to come by.

"Usually their last name is Plumlee and they're all on Duke's team," joked UC head coach Mick Cronin.

Mick wasn't able to sign Miles, Mason, or Marshall Plumlee, but for the next two years, 7'1" 230-pound David Nyarsuk will play for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Nyarsuk.jpg

Nyarsuk spent the last two seasons playing for NAIA powerhouse Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, but the school was stripped of its accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in mid-July.

"We would have been ranked preseason number one in all of the polls," said former Mountain State head coach Bob Bolen.  "We had 10 players returning from a Final Four team and we signed four players that were ready to come in and play.  David wasn't planning on leaving until all of this happened."

When the word got out that Nyarsuk was available for this season, Division I coaches swooped in.

"I got over 450 calls in 96 hours," Bolen told me in a recent interview on 700 WLW.  "A lot of the calls were about Dave and a 6'9" kid who was a Third Team All-American.  That's who the majority of the calls were about.  They would start at seven in the morning about Dave.  I only made one call for Dave and I called Bob Huggins, who is a really good friend of mine, to see if he needed him or had any scholarships available and he didn't.  From that point, Cincinnati jumped in there quickly and I think it's a good decision for him."

As it turned out, UC assistant coach Larry Davis had a relationship with one of Nyarsuk's high school coaches.  

"Larry Davis was on top of it and did a great job and there was a trust level there," said Coach Cronin.  "I think that what probably separated us from other people was that we told David and his coach that we wanted him.  I think a lot of people were inquiring about David and from the first time that we spoke to him, we told him that we wanted him, we needed him, and we were willing to take him that day.

"We got out in front of it and beat some people to the punch and sometimes you're first in line and sometimes you're not.  On this one, Larry Davis did a great job."

In two years at Mountain State, Nyarsuk averaged 10.2 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks, helping the Cougars go 59-15.

"He changes the game on the defensive end," said Bolen.  "He's a great shot blocker, runs the floor well, and is a lot stronger than he looks.  He has skinny legs, but he has a lot of fight in him.  I had calls from schools in the ACC, Big East, Big 10 - I had calls from about everywhere for him.  His offensive game has improved tremendously over the past two years and I think he's a great addition for Cincinnati."

"I think David is definitely going to be able to help us," said Cronin.  "He has played college basketball for two years and he's played at the highest level of NAIA which is better than junior college basketball.  He's got a chance to help us right away - how much I don't know yet because I haven't had a chance to get him out there.  I can tell you that we're excited to have him."

Nyarsuk was ranked as the 19th-best center in the 2010 recruiting class and originally signed with West Virginia.  However, the native of Juba, Sudan was still learning English at the time and failed to reach the required test scores.  David has been cleared to play immediately at Cincinnati by the NCAA.

"(His English) is a lot better than it was two years ago," said Bolen.  "He barely missed on the SAT score and he's a great student and very conscientious.  He's a great kid, he's a Christian, and they can't get a better kid."

Following the departure of 6'9" senior Yancy Gates, Nyarsuk joins 6'10 Cheikh Mbodj and 6'10" Kelvin Gaines to give the Bearcats three centers on this year's roster.

"It definitely adds to our depth if David is able to come in and help us the way that we think he can," said Coach Cronin.  "Cheikh Mbodj is a guy that's going to get some fouls with the way that we want to play - playing pressure defense and being a shot-blocker.  He looks great right now, but he's going to get fouls.  Kelvin Gaines has been a work in progress and this buys him some time to get more ready to play since he's only a sophomore.  Our biggest question mark was if we had enough at the five spot, and David definitely helps us solve that problem."

The jump from NAIA basketball to the Big East is obviously steep, but Nyarsuk's former coach says that he can handle it.

"He's ready," said Coach Bolen.  "We only had one Division I game last year and that was against Morehead State and we beat 'em by 15 and he dominated the game.  He'll surprise a lot of people because he's ready to play at that level."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bearcats Breakfast 8.27.12

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First day of classes today. Was there any worse feeling than showing up the first day of classes and having homework? Although, the homework for UC students was pretty easy: show up and acquire Pitt tickets.

They went open the students at 8 a.m. this morning and word on the street is the ticket offices were buzzing.

I spent some time trying to go back and find a more high-profile, anticipated opener in the last 20 years and came up with a short list. Here's how I rank them:

2004: @Ohio State (L 27-6)
1992: Penn State (L 24-20)
2001: Purdue (L 19-14)
2010: @Fresno State (L 28-14)

Where does the Pitt opener fall in this list? I'd place it just behind Ohio State for second. Only because games against the Buckeyes rile up the fan base more than any other. Even though it was on the road prior to the football renaissance, UC-OSU brings out the hype machine especially considering how close the Bearcats came to beating the Buckeyes during the NCAA Championship year.

UC-Pitt falls over the Penn State game from '92 because of the exposure. Thursday night football stage, season opener coming off 10-win season, final conference game against the outgoing Panthers, inside Nippert -- all adds up to a great showcase for Cincinnati football.  The Penn State game is close only because of the anticipation coming off the controversial 81-0 drubbing laid on UC the year prior. And the Cats almost pulled out the rematch, too.

Here's hoping for a different result than the previous four.

Let's eat...

--- The starting QB announcement will come Tuesday. All signs point to Munchie Legaux leading the Bearcats against Pitt. As Bill Koch wrote, Munchie's wiser and more mature.

Judging by everything I've seen this camp, he certainly owns the attitude and confidence to lead this team to many victories. He's a different guy, no doubt about it. He believes between himself and his weapons, they can beat anybody.

Will that translate to better completion percentage numbers and a more efficient offense? Yet to be seen, but he's certainly far more ready to make that happen than last year.

--- Andrea Adelson broke out the preseason bowl game projections. She places UC at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. I like Charlotte better than Miami, but I don't think Butch Jones and company feel the same way.

She has Louisville going to the Orange Bowl. Yes, the Cardinals return a ton of talent and played well at the end of last season. Heck, even I had them atop my poll. But the crazy fawning over all things Louisville has gone over the top. Teddy Bridgewater darkhorse Heisman? Charlie Strong best coach in the league? It comes from every direction and it's gone over the top. To think any one team in the Big East right now is unanimously better than any other is crazy. The league is too competitive and nobody owns overwhelming talent or coaching.

For a team that is still pretty young, I have a feeling the hype machine might be a detriment to Louisville. If I could go back, I'd drop them out of the poll for that reason. Reading the headlines about how great you are is never a good thing on this level.

--- Matt Rybaltkowski at CBSSports.com picks the three UC school records most likely to go down this season. Interesting piece. Worth a click.

--- Tommy G with Butch Jones following the final day of training camp at the Sheakley Athletic Complex.

--- Dan Hoard wrote
about Greg Blair, who has assumed the MLB job from blog favorite Solomon Tentman. Blair is the younger brother of former Pitt power forward and current San Antonio Spurs player DeJuan Blair.

Great insight into what has been a tough stretch for the JC transfer.

--- This nugget from the Big East blog sorting through the conference:

"6. Since 2007, the Cincinnati Bearcats have had four seasons of at least 10 wins. The rest of the teams in the Big East have combined for three."

--- Nippert Stadium is a one of a kind jewel, statement of the facts from Down the Drive.

--- Some randomness...

--- This is a fantastic read from Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on ailing St. Louis coach Rick Majerus.

--- I side with Sally Jenkins
in the Lance Armstrong debate. The guy was the best cyclist in one of the dirtiest sports around. He raised millions upon millions for cancer. He beat cancer himself. Personally, dirty or clean, I could care less. Go tear down somebody who hasn't done so much good with his fame.

--- The Real Housewives of
New Jersey think the atmosphere in the Red Sox clubhouse is toxic.

--- Pearl Jam on
Monday for motivation. Go.



Football Jones

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It has been an interesting summer to say the least and with fall upon us the time for football has arrived. UC football in particular has made their annual trek to Harrison for their Higher Ground rite of preparation, only to come back and find out the President of their beloved university, Dr. Gregory Williams, has resigned and the finger pointing has ensued. But it doesn't matter to them and you can credit coach Butch Jones for that.

Oh he cares; and they care about what it will mean when the permanent successor has been named but in football terms it has the value of Enron stock on the practice field. This is football; Butch Jones football and the focus is on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Not that the resignation doesn't fit in all of these categories because it does. It doesn't fit from the lens the team looks through. Neither did Brian Kelly leaving or Mike Thomas heading to Illinois.

Butch Jones is all about football, specifically UC football. He is a leader, a follower, a father figure and more. If it has something to do with UC football, his staff and/or players he knows. He has settled the faithful who were on the ledge about losing Coach Kelly to Notre Dame and now his name is rarely mentioned by the Bearcat followers anymore. That's because Coach Jones respect for Kelly and his forward moving vision makes a great recipe for success. It's not about bashing his predecessor, friend and mentor but thanking him. It's not about resting on last years success but building on it; and it's not about the vacant presidency because he doesn't select them.

Coach Jones keeps his vision between the lines, the classroom and in the community where the players live. His job is to shape young men while trying to win games and titles. When they leave the university he'll be judged by what they become as men, fathers and alumni. What they give back and what they contribute to society. I firmly believe he cares; I know he wants what's best and we all know he wants UC to be a major player in college football. 

So with the shocking resignation of President Williams, the finger pointing and successor talk will build into a ground swell of rumors the size of Nippert Stadium. But rumors can't tackle, attend class or certainly do good in the community. But players can, especially players who can put it all in perspective. I think Bearcats under the influence of Coach Butch Jones will do that; focus on football, academics and the community. Rest assured if they don't rumors of their departure will surely get in line with all the other rumors that have preceded them. The bottom line is this is about UC football and Coach Jones will make sure it stays that way.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat.

Toughness Runs In Family For Bearcat LB Blair

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When Yancy Gates was a freshman at Cincinnati, the coaching staff had him study DVDs of Pitt strongman DeJuan Blair in action.  Mick Cronin wanted Yancy to use his bulk like the Pitt All-American did, as Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds despite being two inches shorter than Gates.

Fast-forward three years later and one of Yancy's classmates at UC was none other than DeJuan's younger brother - Bearcat linebacker Greg Blair.

"I talked to Yancy about that once when we were in class," Greg told me.  "He said, 'Man, your brother used to a beast in the Big East.'  When Yancy was a freshman, my brother was a sophomore and Yancy said he was too much for him to handle.

"I used to tell my brother that he wasn't going to be as big as his opponent so he had to outwork him.  It's crazy because now, that's what DeJuan says to me.  He says, 'You ain't going to be the fastest, you ain't going to be the strongest.  You just have to outwork your opponent.'" 

Greg Blair.jpg

DeJuan Blair is currently a key member of the San Antonio Spurs, and Greg Blair is emerging as an important part of the Bearcat defense.  In recent days he's moved to the top of the depth chart as JK Schaffer's replacement at middle linebacker.

"It was my goal to get with the 'ones,' said Blair.  "That was one of my main goals that I wrote down before camp and I achieved it.  After position meetings they tell us the rotation and one day they said, 'Blair - you're with the ones.'  Now I've got to work to stay there because I know that I could get bumped down just as fast."

"We've really challenged him and he's done a great job," said UC head coach Butch Jones.  "He has a long way to go, but he's really watched his weight and shown great diligence in his physical conditioning.  Now we're working on his mental conditioning and to get him to play through things when he's tired."

Like his 6'7", 270-pound older brother, Greg Blair is 6'2" and solidly built - a bit too solidly last year after transferring from Lackawanna Community College.

"He puts weight on when he's sweating," joked Coach Jones.  "But he's doing a great job.  When we get off the field, he's in the weight room riding the bike.  He's really shown a commitment level this offseason." 

"I don't know what it is with my metabolism," said Blair.  "(Strength coach) Dave Lawson says that he's never seen anyone like me.  I'll come in and gain seven pounds in one day and then lose eight pounds the next day.  I can't control it.  That's why I try to watch what I eat and when I eat.  I'm 243 right now so I'm in good shape - I just have to maintain it." 

The Blair family lived within the shadow of the Pitt campus, so potentially making his first Division I start on September 6th against the Panthers is an exciting prospect for the UC senior.

"That's a huge deal," Greg told me.  "I just thank God for the opportunity.  If I have the opportunity to start against Pitt, that will be a really emotional day for me."

And not only because Pittsburgh is his hometown.

Last Tuesday, a 25-year-old childhood friend of Greg's named Robert Murphy was shot to death in a Pittsburgh suburb.   

"Over the summer when we had a break and I was back home, he was saying that he couldn't wait to see my first game and to be there," said Blair.  "He had purchased my customized jersey and it just came in.  I have a heavy heart right now and I have to go home for the funeral.

"They said it was a drive-by shooting and he died shortly afterward.  It's messed up.  He was probably the closest friend that I had - he was one of those friends you just do everything with.  It's hard to lose him but you just have to move on."

Staying strong runs in the Blair family.

"He's had some trials and tribulations since he's been here and he's just kept fighting through them," said Coach Jones.  "He's shown great perseverance."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

RDA IV 4 UC TD

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OK, a little tardy in getting this video up, but when high school football kicks into gear, the day job gets a little hairy.

Before the Bearcats departed Higher Ground in Indiana, I spoke with Ralph David Abernathy IV about his role with UC this season and last year's tremendous kickoff return at the Liberty Bowl.

The young Abernathy will again be returning kicks for the Bearcats and could see an increased role in the backfield with the departure of Isaiah Pead to the Rams.

As in most cases, don't let his size fool you. Dude can play.


Bearcats Breakfast 8.24.12

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We are 13 days from UC-Pitt at Nippert. The countdown continues.

If you haven't seen the Are You Ready video yet, click the link and check your blood pressure.

Let's eat...

--- Spoke with Walter Stewart the other day as his final Higher Ground wrapped. Butch Jones called Stewart one of the most dynamic leaders he's been around and Stewart continued that role the last three weeks.

The man who made Get The Dub the rap sensation of last Fall says he's yet to crank out the second song for his senior season, but he still owns two weeks to put together a new jam.

He says it's tough to pull out the new hotness. Indeed, now he knows what Lil' Wayne feels like.

"I got a newfound respect for that work," he said.

He may be lagging in the music game, but that's probably because he's spending so much time honing his football game.

Here's a portion of the Q/A with a player the Bearcats are pegging to be the face of the program this year.

PDJ: Being a leader and face of this team a harder process than you envisioned when coming out here?

WS:
It was tough just because getting the younger guys going and constantly being that consistent person every day is tough, but we also got other guys on teh team, the player staff and all our leaders on defense with Dan (Giordano), Cheat, (Maalik) Bomar, we got through it the best we could.

PDJ: What did you learn about this team?

WS:
I learned we got a lot of players, lot of bodies. Since I've been here we never really had a stable of players you could just keep rolling them in. I feel like this year we got a lot of players that have been here for a while, that have sat out, I feel like we got a really, really deep team across the board.

PDJ: What have you found in your game that is coming together?

WS:
Every day I wrote it down, but it was just violent hands, winning the junction point and getting to the ball. Just ry to keep it simple. If you can master those three things, especially as a defensive lineman you can be a good player.

PDJ: Notice a difference in it working?

WS:
Definitely, I've been getting off blocks a lot better, I've been getting a lot more separation. In teh pass rush I've been using my hands a lot better. I'm running to the ball a lot better, that used to be my biggest problem in years past was just completely selling out to the ball every play, I've gotten better than that.

PDJ: Hard to believe how close that opening of your senior season is now?

WS:
With this being my last camp it's crazy because the season is coming, I'm a senior, it's everything you think about when you are a young player. You say, I can't wait, I can't wait. Now, it is just like, whoa, where am I right now. I am definitely enjoying the process.

--- The Bearcats return three of four starters in the secondary, so they expect to be better. Bill Koch writes about the pressure on a group that finished last season 105th in pass defense.

First off, let me say this, Bill's points are all valid. If there was a weakness in last year's defense it was stopping the pass. They allowed the opponent to complete at least 60 percent of their passes in 8 of 13 games.

Four times an opponent passed for more than 345 yards. Two of those were losses.

That said, the concept that UC's pass defense was among the 15 worst in the country last year bends the numbers. That number is derived from passing yards allowed. If you look at yards/game they ranked 99. No difference really, but worth noting.

Beyond that, their rush defense ranked sixth nationally in rushing yards per game with Derek Wolfe and John Hughes plugging the middle. That was a bigger reason for the bloated passing numbers than secondary malfunction.

When only allowing 2.71 yards per rush and playing from behind as many were against the 10-3 Bearcats, other teams are going toss it around quite a bit.

How much? Well, UC ranked 111th in the country in passes thrown against them last year (483). More passes=more yards=misleading numbers.

A better indication on how the passing  defense did would be by looking at the opponents passer rating and UC didn't fare badly there at all. They finished 44th in country in that category.

Moral of the story: The pass defense last year wasn't great, but they weren't that far off.

(All stats according to cfbstats.com)

--- News worth monitoring:
Pitt RB Ray Graham is unlikely for the opener against Youngstown State. He's being held out according to the ESPN story because of his recovery from last year's ACL injury.

All eyes are on him, according to Andrea Adelson.

If he's not good healthy enough to play at all in the opener, would anybody expect him to be his normal self if he plays five days later at UC?

--- While we are poking around the archives at ESPN's BE blog, they ask who will carry the flag of the conference? Does the conference need someone to carry the flag? Can it be UC?

Good quotes from new commish Mike Aresco and CBJ in the piece which serves as a great overview of the state of the conference.
 
--- Who is the better looking Bujnoch? Isn't it questions like this that started Facebook? Tommy G talks Nippert, O-line and long locks with Austen.

--- Seniors discuss leaving Higher Ground one final time over at CoachButchJones.com.

--- D.J. Woods with a 51-yard kickoff return last night for the Titans. Unfortunately, he also lost a fumble.

--- Armon Binns started opposite A.J. Green last night and made a diving catch to put the Bengals at first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. His role has become more defined and it appears he'll be in a rotation with Brandon Tate at the No. 2 spot, but get the starts.

--- Three tackles for JK Schaffer whose Jags had a tough time stopping Joe Flacco and the Ravens, who ran up 48 points. Flacco threw 36 passes in a preseason game? Apparently the Ravens think Flacco can be the next Drew Brees.

Randomness...

--- People attending Baltimore Ravens games may have contracted rabies from bats. As opposed to people who attend Cleveland Browns games, who may contract rabies from humans.

--- Even hoarders wouldn't touch this one
. This dude is keeping three million bees in his house. Only reminds me of Arrested Development. I wonder how this is going to affect his honey business?

--- While we are on the topic, Arrested Development returns this spring.

--- If you are 6-11 and 500 pounds, I suppose you could play football, though, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest would play more to your skill set.

--- As a sports nerd, I am a complete sucker for these things. This is six minutes of the greatest moments in sports. Enjoy this and your weekend folks.



Bearcats Breakfast 8.22.12

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Quick Breakfast today as UC returns to Nippert from Higher Ground. Two-plus weeks of football boot camp are officially in the books. Talking to Butch Jones, the idea of leaving the middle of nowhere and heading back to civilization only made him sad.

Butch loves football. He loves coaching football. Leaving football-coach heaven behind is tough. Sure, the games and glory bring out the best in everyone and are why they do all this, but you get the feeling talking to Jones these two weeks are his favorite of the year.

As for what came out of camp? Still no official decision on the quarterback battle, but Munchie Legaux has taken the wide majority of snaps with the first team. Jones is calling for an official announcement next week. The writing would seemingly be on the wall, but Jones will continue to keep Brendon Kay in the mix for now.

"(Legaux) has really matured in a very short period of time," Jones said. "Also, I think a lot of it is because of the competition that Brendon Kay is bringing as well. Competition is extremely healthy."

Other notes from camp:

-- Pleasant surprises?: Jones reeled off two specific names quickly, one on offense and one on defense.

Redshirt Freshman Parker Ehringer (6-7, 290), an offensive lineman out of Michigan is currently running with the first team on the up front and performed well. 

Central Michigan transfer John Williams also has drawn the praises of Jones for helping to fill the void left by Derek Wolfe and John Hughes. "He's stepped up and provided some stability for us in our defensive front," Jones said.

-- Freshmen impact?: Jones has seen a few freshmen play well enough to warrant playing time opening week. He estimates "upwards of four" will see the field in the opener.

-- Walter Stewart said he enjoyed his time at Higher Ground, but the first thing he'll be doing when he returns to the city is hit up some fast food. Namely: Rally's -- Baconzilla.

-- The best news, as Bill Koch points out in this nice camp recap, no major injuries coming out of camp.

-- Here's Jones with Tommy G at the conclusion of camp.

-- Hope you caught my story on Arryn Chenault, who come to find out is the nephew of famous UC basketball player, the late Paul Hogue. Cool piece of UC tradition weaving into the next generation.

-- Fielding a punt is harder than it looks. Video Shane proves that well. Dave Coulier is on line 2 and interested in your video, Shane.




Committing to Cincinnati was a no-brainer for starting safety Arryn Chenault considering his uncle is one of the most famous athletes in school history.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - When discussing what will be his first game as a full-time starter, Arryn Chenault immediately begins reeling off names of those who came before him. The pressure to rise up as a junior starting safety this season comes as much from within the locker room as it does outside.

The list comes quickly off his tongue: Haruki Nakamura, Aaron Webster, Connor Barwin, even Chenault's current starting teammate at safety Drew Frey.

"You got to live up to expectations," he said. "We got these All-Big East DB's, we got great defenses here."

Discussing history and legacy comes easy to Chenault because he's used to it. His family tree fronts a forest of UC royalty.

"My uncle, I don't if you know him," Chenault said. "He played with the Big O. His name was Paul Hogue."

Oh yeah, pretty sure we know him.

Hogue.jpg

Hogue passed away in 2009, but was on the 1961 and '62 national championship basketball teams. Of course, to say he was on the team is akin to saying those squads won a few games. Hogue was the Most Outstanding Player of the '61 tournament, spent two seasons in the NBA and owns a spot in the Ohio, Cincinnati and UC Halls of Fame. He'll go in a second time in the UC Hall this year when the entire 1961 team is enshrined.

To an older generation, he'll be instantly reeled off as one of the great UC Bearcats of all-time. To the 20-year-old Chenault -- who spoke with his uncle regularly -- he'll go down as competition and a driving force of motivation.

"We had family reunions all the time and he used to brag about how he got championships and I ain't got none," Chenault said. "I want to compete against his legacy. In our family we compete against each other in anything."

The time has officially arrived for Chenault to begin making a name for himself. For two years, he sat behind Drew Frey and Wes Richardson. He learned the ropes and patiently waited his turn. Once Richardson graduated last year Chenault seized the opportunity. He's been running as the starting safety every day of camp.

In an experienced secondary, he'll be the only first-year starter playing with sixth-year senior Frey, senior Cam Cheatham and junior Deven Drane. Although, technically, Sept. 6 against Pitt won't be Chenault's first start. He earned a surprise start when Frey was banged up on the first punt of last year's win at Miami. Chenault was forced into action for the first few series of the game before Frey returned.

For what it's worth, he scored a 100 percent for his time in there. Although, he's a much different player these days roaming the defensive backfield.

"When I was in against Miami, I was just playing assignment football," he said. "I was just playing not to mess up. Now I am out there trying to make plays, trying to be a leader, trying to get the team going, big hits, getting picks, everything. Just trying to make plays."


Chenault.jpeg

Those plays start by communicating with Frey next to him. There, Chenault has proven to be well ahead of schedule. Despite the fact the two have yet to play a game next to each other, Frey says this is the strongest communication he's enjoyed with another safety.

"I love that kid," he said. "I know how Arryn thinks, he knows how I think. He's a smart guy, he's in the right places at the right times."

There will be no more right place for him than Nippert Stadium this season. Beyond lineage, Chenault is a hometown kid who loves every aspect of the city. He grew up in North College Hill and still remembers his pee-wee football days playing for Hilltop. He's seen the suburbs after moving to Fairfield for high school where he led the team in tackles and interceptions as a junior and senior. There, he ascended to a three-star recruit by scout and had offers from Big Ten schools Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois.

Usually, when the Big Ten offers, high school kids sign.

Not this kid. Not this family. Not in this city.

"End of the day you can't leave your home," said Chenault, who would happily accept any tickets you could help him out with trying to squeeze his hoards of family and friends into the stands against Pitt. "It's hometown cooking, man. My freshman year we came in were struggling a bit, people were doubting us, but we won another championship. That is what this program is all about. It's all about championships and there ain't no better city than Cincinnati, so I ain't leaving Cincinnati."

Chenault certainly wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to honor Hogue by attempting to pass his uncle's two-championship barrier.

"That red and black was already in my family so (committing) was just a no-brainer," Chenault said. "He got two, I got one right now. I can pass him up, get three. I got some catching up to do."

UC's Barbecue Cat

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University of Cincinnati Associate AD/External Relations and Media Communications Doug Mosley has several other titles that many might not be aware of.  As I learned from a recent restaurant review, Mr. Mosley is "The Grand Potentate of Pork", "The Sultan of Smoked Meat", "The Big Kahuna of Brisket", "Ruler of Ribs", and "Swami of Sauce".

There may be others, but that's all we can divulge at this point.

Suffice it to say, as most sports information offices do, the boys find some "good eats" on the road. Back when I traveled more sports-wise, I was always interested in finding the hole-in-the-wall places with big smokers out front that lured you in.

Even now, when I'm out of state, the family knows there's a strong likelihood I'll be stopping if I see an appealing barbecue billboard.

They all have a story.  Some have decent food.  One that I recall vividly was on a trip to Southern Miss when we were escorted to some backwoods, dirt road in rural Mississippi (not there's much of an urban Mississippi) until we came on a house that didn't have much lighting and had towels serving as drapes in the windows.

If anyone of you have seen the opening scene of the old Steve Martin movie, "The Jerk", then that's what the front porch looked like.

That's what barbecue joints are all about--atmosphere, stories, and carnivorous exploration.

So, this has little to do with football, but if you need a little advice on where to find various forms of chopped or sliced meat cooked over an open fire; Doug's your guy. I defer to anyone who has spent time on an official "barbecue eating team".

Williams ready to get cooking in final year

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OK, things are a little out of sequence here, but I defer to the players in terms of news.

This is something I did with UC defensive back Chris Williams and I did it after briefly interviewing UC's Doug Mosley who heads up the Sports Information efforts.  Turns out Mosley's a barbecue expert and I like barbecue and I like interviewing folks I have something in common with (it's my camera and all).

Anyway, Williams patiently waited while I talked about the glories of smoked pork with Mosley and then he chimed in with his two cents worth.  In addition to laying a hit on opponents in the secondary, young Williams knows his way around the kitchen and grill.

When he's not in your grill, he's on the grill and at some point, he'd like to open his own.

Here he is, the man that flies, fries and filets....

Bearcats Breakfast 8.20.12

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The time at Higher Ground comes to an end this week. The team will head back to campus this week and hold their first practice at Nippert Stadium on Thursday. From that point, two weeks will remain until UC hosts Pitt on ESPN.

You can almost smell it now. Of course, that could be the funk humming out of the dorms packed with Bearcats the last two weeks.

Along those same lines, the closer the season draws the more stories are starting to flow out of Higher Ground. And that's that I'm here for.

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch wrote about Butch Jones expecting to pass more this year. That falls into the question of offensive identity and one can wonder if Jones plans on using more short passes essentially as outside runs to allow his athletic WRs in space and keep Munchie Legaux completing passes. Although, as he tells Bill, he's looking for more of a vertical passing game.

This was exactly what I was discussing in the identity post, with so many new pieces there are many different directions this attack could go in. Finding what works will need to happen fast.

--- Why would throwing more
be a logical move? Well, featuring Kenbrell Thompkins may be the best move the Bearcats can make. After speaking with him last week it's clear he understands the maturity and work necessary to spin his talent into production.

Thompkins finished last season with 44 receptions for 536 yards. Not bad numbers, but considering the expectations of the hard-working former Tennessee-commit, they fell shy of what many thought they'd see.

Wide receiver coach T.J. Weist said Thompkins battled injury throughout the summer and it persisted through training camp to the point he couldn't play a full game until midway through the year. When looking at his game-by-game numbers, fatigue played a role. Once he finally did regain enough stamina to play full games he became the player everyone looked for. Then, once Zach Collaros gave way to Legaux, who KT has limited experience throwing with, his numbers fell off.

Average first three games: 3 receptions, 34 yards
Average next six games: 5.5 receptions, 65 yards
Average final four games: 1 reception, 10.5 yards

Legaux and Thompkins spent all offseason working on their timing. For Thompkins, he believes the connection will come with his QB. UC fans will see the difference in his individual effort as well. '

"I think they are going to be able to tell by the way I fly off the ball," Thompkins said. "Not only that but my whole attitude, the way I play the game. The way I prepare for it. T

In junior college, Thompkins said preparation meant little. With so much talent, they took the field and ran their offense and got by blowing past slower DBs. Research on the opponent? Forget about it. In his first year he learned the hard way the difference between believing he'll excel and putting in the work to earn it.

"To have high expectations you must prepare for it. You must game plan for it. You must make sure you eat right, you sleep right. Those are things I wasn't doing. This year I am actually taking care of my body more. I am spending more time in the film room and actually enjoying the process right now.
"


--- Last week, I took a look Jameel Poteat and his intriguing opportunity. Can't wait to see how he does in an opener built for his story line. Also, this feature on Anthony McClung, who apparently spent the offseason running routes in the dark at Nippert.

Also, check out this blog on the duties of the new Faculty Athletics Representative who steps in during a time where his role is highlighted as a hyper-sensitive position.

--- Dan Hoard looked at Eric Lefeld as he finds his comfort zone at left tackle. Plus, any time you can find a piece that leads with pre-game regurgitation, it's a winner. Dan makes a great point, assuming Lefeld enjoys the same success at LT this year as he did filling in for Sean Hooey last year at right tackle, the Bearcats will be in great hands at the most important offensive line position for the foreseeable future.

As for the O-line, obviously there will be pressure on center Dan Sprague and whoever comes out on top of the left guard battle, but returning three starters allows a significant strength. On an offensive with a new quarterback and running backs behind them, this unit transforming into the dominant group expectations insist they can become could be the key to this season.

People often forget how much the UC line wore down opponents last season during their run of fourth-quarter comebacks. That began and ended with the big uglies up front.

--- The Bearcats received one vote in the AP poll. Thanks, Josh Kendall.

Louisville was the lone Big East team represented at No. 25.

--- Tommy G continues to offer very little to Bearcats coverage. All he's done recently is speak with defensive coordinator Jon Jancek and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Take a deeper look at the experience in the secondary with Cam Cheatham and Drew Frey. He cranked out a time lapse of the Bearcats season preview show for Fox. And of course, provide regular updates with Butch Jones.

Somebody should really light a fire under that guy. (aka, great work, TG)

--- Those of you who aren't season ticket holders (Really? Have you seen the deal for $125?) aren't privy to the cool work the marketing folks did the with the season tickets this year. They printed the words to the fight song across all seven tickets.

--- Note from camp last week: Trenier Orr is the rising star at Higher Ground. Butch Jones has had nothing but great things to say and views him as one of the leaders of the team. The sophomore is challenging for time at DB and fills what's becoming a deep crop of corners with Cheatham, Deven Drane, Orr and sixth-year man Dominique Battle.

"I tell you right now the guy who is leading that defense is Trenier Orr. He's leading with his play. He's the first to the piles. He's got effort, great energy, great intensity.

"He's grown up. Is he ready yet? Is he disciplined enough to put out there on an island? No, but he will be. He's probably the closest thing I've seen in a long time in comparison to (recently minted Pittsburgh receiver) Antonio Brown in terms of his competitive nature."

--- The Bearcats across NFL camps continue to make an impact. Locally, Armon Binns has worked his way into the starting role at receiver opposite A.J. Green. All he does is make plays and he'll be given the opportunity to make a name for himself this season.

--- Isaiah Pead notched his first NFL touchdown Saturday night for the Rams. In standard IPead fashion, he broke out the athletic, dramatic leap over the pile. Hopefully the first of many.

It was the lone highlight during an otherwise rough game, though. He finished with six rushes for minus-5 yards two receptions for minus-3 yards and one punt return for one yard.

--- Derek Wolfe keeps doing what Derek Wolfe does. After recording two sacks in his opener, he tied for the team lead with four sacks in his first start at defensive end for the Broncos.

--- Keep an eye out for the Philadephia BearEagles tonight. Mardy Gilyard, Trent Cole and Brent Celek are on Monday Night Football against the Patriots.

--- Some randomness...

--- News headline of the day: Man breaks into house, takes off clothing, bakes chicken pot pie.

--- If you need a stuffed turtle doll,
you can check out Michael Beasley's auction.

--- Filed under "Torn":
George Costanza appears in a Nickelback video.

--- As we drive within shouting distance of the opener, this Kings of Leon jam seems appropriate. Have a fantastic day.











Lefeld Gaining Confidence On Offensive Line

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Last year's win over Louisville is best remembered for a spectacular performance by Isaiah Pead who ran for 151 yards including a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped rally UC to a 25-16 victory.

Lefeld_Eric (288x440).jpg

Offensive tackle Eric Lefeld remembers it for a different reason.

Lefeld made his first college start that afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium as a redshirt freshman in place of an injured Sean Hooey.  Just one year earlier, Lefeld arrived at Cincinnati weighing nearly 50 fewer pounds as a defensive end. 

"It was unbelievable," said Lefeld.  "I had senior Alex Hoffman to help me and he was constantly giving me tips on technique.   I was nervous as heck getting to play in the Bengals stadium in my first game." 

"He was a little nervous at first," said junior Austin Bujnoch.  "I can't say what happened during the pregame, but he was pretty nervous."

Does that mean there was some pregame spewing?

"There was some spewing, but he did a great job for us," said Bujnoch with a laugh.  "That was for the Keg of Nails and we always talk about Louisville as being one of our bigger rivals.  He knew going into the game that he needed to step up and I think he did because the offense didn't skip a beat.  He did really well."

The 6'6", 291 pound sophomore started seven of the Bearcats' last eight games at right tackle last season, and now that Hooey has recovered from an ankle injury, Lefeld moves to left tackle to replace Hoffman who earned Second Team All-Big East Honors last season.

"The left tackle protects the blind side of the quarterback and that's probably the most critical spot on the offensive line," said head coach Butch Jones.  "Eric Lefeld is one of the great success stories from last year that wasn't told.  I believe that he started seven games for us at the tackle position and a year before he was a defensive lineman who was about 240 pounds.  He came in and really held the rope, and now you can see with that experience that he is a rock of stability." 

Lefeld is from Coldwater, OH, a town of about 4,500 people that is roughly 70 miles northwest of Dayton.  According to the school's website, the Coldwater Cavaliers have won more games (145) than any program in Ohio since 2000 and have been to the playoffs 15 straight times.  Playing for a small school powerhouse helped Eric make a rapid conversion from defense to offense.

"I think my class graduated with about 120-130 students," said Lefeld.  "When you transfer that over to the football field, we had guys playing on both sides of the ball.  I had the opportunity to be a little more versatile and understand a little bit more about the game.  I had great coaches in John Reed and Chip Otten and it gave me a great background."

"He's committed and he comes from a great high school program, so he had a great foundation coming in here," said Coach Jones.

Still, Lefeld admits to being a bit shocked when he was asked to change positions.

"I think it was the first couple of days into my first camp and it was a big change to be honest," said Lefeld.  "Coach Jones grabbed me and said, 'Come on.  I want to see what you can do over here.'  He threw me into the fire and I haven't turned back."

And Lefeld has quickly developed into one of Cincinnati's best offensive lineman.

"He cares about the game and is a student of the game," said Bujnoch.  "He always wants to get better.  He's physical and I wouldn't want to have anyone else playing next to me." 

"This football program and his teammates mean everything to him," said Coach Jones.  "That's his nature.  He's competitive, and it's like he has a fire burning inside of him every day."

"When we talk about 'Representing the C,' what really comes to my mind is that it's on the field and off the field," said Lefeld.  "I come from a great family where we stress grades and competing to the best of your ability every time you're on the field, and I believe in having a good balance."

It sounds like the Bearcats won't have to feel nervous about the left tackle position for the next three years. 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Three weeks ago the Bearcats named Dean and Professor of Marketing David Szymanski the new Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR). The position serves as the faculty academics liaison overseeing the athletics element of the university and also takes a spot on the important Athletics Advisory Council. The FAR is dedicated to bridging the gap between the two sides. In the specific, early portions of the job entailed reviewing all the student-athletes transcripts and making sure everyone is on the proper path academically.

szymandd.jpgThat means many hours spent with Compliance Director Maggie McKinley pouring over paperwork. But beyond the logistics of the process right now his job represents a bigger picture issue thrust to the forefront of the college landscape these days.

Recent severe sanctions against Penn State came against the backdrop of Jerry Sandusky's child molestation claims. The NCAA addressed the deeper reasoning they struck down with such force came because of a general lack perspective from the athletics program in relation to the rest of the university. The power of football overwhelmed the basic principles of higher education.

Due to the ripple effect emanating from State College the FAR position has never been so prominent or important. For Szymanski, he understands the grander scheme

"It is part checks and balances and part doing the right thing making things are going in the right direction and being proactive at the same time making sure you don't have anything that is going on," he said. "You obviously work toward making sure you focus on doing all the right things. Fortunately here at UC we really haven't had any recent history of anything going on."

No, the Bearcats record is relatively clean and with a line of checks including the FAR, advisory council, role of President Greg Williams and beyond. If Szymanski were to ever feel an issue was trending in the wrong direction, there would be little problem making sure it never grew beyond the trending phase.

"I'll be meeting with the president on a regular basis to talk about things," he said. "You'd have the opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to the right people and inform them immediately. That's how it should be done and can be done."

A common theme over the years nationally is the narrative that the academic side and athletic side are built to butt heads. The academics would complain about the money and facilities poured into athletics and athletics side would bemoan strict guidelines places upon players.

The national narrative hasn't applied at UC where the school's record both in the classroom and on the field show one team paddling in the same direction. Szymanski made a point to reiterate the value during one of his first advisory council meetings.

His point: Look up how many faculty members played college athletics.

"What you find out is there are more faculty who were athletes," he said. "Part of it is an appreciation, part is a communication. Athletics certainly helps to enhance the institution and build the community spirit, building loyal alumni and marketing the institution. We monetize the amount of exposure you get nationally in terms of media it's pretty significant. It helps to make a destination school for a lot of students and not just a lot of athletes."

Three weeks into his time on the job, these student-athletes only supplemented his belief in the system in place at UC. Any thoughts of a negative relationship between the two sides were unsubstantiated.

What Szymanski hopes to cultivate and already appears in place at UC is everyone living on the same page.

"True communication and making people understand what the athletics do for the institution and what the institution can do for athletics really is a partnership," he said. "It's not an either-or proposition. As going through this review process it's amazing how many great students we have who are on the athletic teams. Some people will talk about it on the national level as either-or, I think it is being a student and an athlete and I think the same discipline it takes to be a student-athlete really are the criteria for success in any profession you might pursue. I don't see them as mutually exclusive, I see them as very synergistic."

Another Bujnoch clearing holes in Cincinnati

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If the face and the long locks look familiar, your eyes aren't deceiving you.

It's another Bujnoch on the offensive line in Cincinnati.  Austen Bujnoch is in his fourth year as a University of Cincinnati offensive lineman, but is seeing his playing time increase as a redshirt junior.

Coming out of Elder, just like his brother, Digger, Austen has also bulked up since his Panther days as his brother did.  He's also grown his hair out for the "Locks of Love" charity as Digger did during his career a few years ago.

Either way, Austen's follicles pale in comparison to the lengthy mane of his father, Glenn, the former Bengals offensive lineman.  The pony-tailed Glenn is in his second go-round as a UC football Dad and was part of the Bengals first Super Bowl team that played the 49ers in the Pontiac Silverdome in Jan. 1982.

For a further look, there's this:
McClung.jpg

Anthony McClung put together one of the most impressive freshman-sophomore seasons in UC history, but the Bearcats need an even greater junior campaign to help lift a young offense.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - In the drought of college football offseason, Nippert Stadium sits quiet in the middle of the UC campus. The beacon of activity during Saturdays in the Fall stands dormant.

Periodically, however, in the empty hours of the night when many of the students surrounding the stadium lie asleep, the soft sound of footsteps and a football slapping against receiver gloves echo off the bleachers. The lights are off. Only the soft cascade of the moon shines through the surrounding buildings.

In the faint midnight light, the future of the Cincinnati Bearcats offense could be found. There were roommates Munchie Legaux and Anthony McClung. Running routes. In the dark. At midnight.

"I can see him and the ball," McClung said. "I don't know what he is seeing, but as far as running my routes he knows where I am at he puts it on the spot."

McClung would gladly flip the stadium lights, but when dorm boredom creates an impromptu route-tree session in early hours of the morning, finding authority to use enough wattage to power a small village doesn't come easy.

So, when incumbent QB Legaux and the school's top receiver McClung feel the itch to work on their craft once every few weeks, they learn how to do so in the dark.

"We are just messing around, but we are actually getting work in," McClung said. "Just sitting around watching TV and say, 'You want to go run routes?'"

munchiemcclung.jpg

All a part of the journey to the next level for the closest thing to a proven connection on the young Bearcats offense. McClung understands he's being counted on to become a premier receiver in the Big East as he enters his junior season. After all, he led the Bearcats in receptions (49), receiving yards (683) and receiving touchdowns last year (six).

When McClung first arrived on campus three years ago, few would have predicted these numbers. He wasn't a wildly recruited prospect. In fact, he wasn't even the highest rated receiver attending UC on his own high school team. Four-star WR DyJuan Lewis owned that label.

At 6-foot with an undersized frame he didn't jump off the highlight video. Yet, once he arrived at UC he did pop off video on the practice field. Suddenly, two years later he's put together one of the best freshman-sophomore year combinations in school history. He caught 71 passes in two years.

If he were only to repeat his production last season during his junior and senior years, he would finish with the fourth-most receptions in Bearcats history (projected: 169). Only Mardy Gilyard, LaDaris Vann an Dominick Goodman - all with 204 receptions - would own more.

Not bad for the other guy from Indianapolis Pike.

"Yeah, I'm definitely (surprised) because my first year here I felt we had an NFL receiving corps," he said. "They threw me in the fire it just hasn't stopped then."

In the eyes of the Bearcats coaching staff, it can't stop now. A team short on proven play-makers needs more from McClung.

"He's smooth," wide receivers coach T.J. Weist said. "He's got a feel for running routes; he's got a feel for timing, breaking on the ball, getting in and out of breaks. He's been very natural at that. Now he's got to take it to the next level. He's got to get faster so we can use him in different situations."

In order to reach the next level he needs a quarterback to climb alongside him. That's what leads us back to the dark nights at Nippert Stadium and two friends thrilled to be tied to each other's success. In the win that clinched a share of the Big East title last year, Legaux hooked up with McClung eight times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. It produced the shining moment in the young careers of both and UC faithful hope a glimpse at the future. 

During the first two weeks of training camp at Higher Ground McClung noticed the change in his quarterback. Considering McClug stays in contact with Legaux nearly every day of the year, he should know.

"Munchie is hungry," McClung said. "He really wants to be the best quarterback in the Big East if not the nation. His whole body language, his demeanor. It's just overall confidence. When he first came in we had to make the plays for him. Now he's making plays for us, throwing us open. We are running good routes, catching the ball, making plays."

McClung continue maneuvering out of the slot position and expect Legaux to eye No. 6 when he must have the critical yards. Whether a post or out route, three- or five-step drop, lights on or in the dark, these two will know exactly what to expect.

"We can call any play we want," Weist said, "but if it doesn't come down to that quarterback trusting that wide receiver and knowing his body language in a pressure situation, it doesn't matter."

Coach Jones Shows Good Touch In Recruiting Cole

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You never know what makes the difference in recruiting elite high school football players.  Even free throw shooting ability can be a factor.

An explanation is in order.

Nate Cole.jpg

One of the most highly-touted players in UC's freshman class is wide receiver Nate Cole from Memphis, TN who chose Cincinnati over Alabama, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee, West Virginia and others.

"I felt the family vibe when I came here," Cole told me.  "I saw a game at Nippert Stadium and it felt like home."


After playing for his father Nathan, Sr. at Mitchell High School, it was important for Cole to sense a close connection to his college head coach.

That's where free throw shooting comes in.

"His pride is probably going to be wounded here," said UC head coach Butch Jones with a grin.  "We were in the gym (on a recruiting visit) and he was having a great senior year in basketball.  He was feeling really good about himself, so we made a friendly wager over who could win a free throw shooting contest.  We squared off in front of his gym class and Coach Jones came out victorious."

"He beat me fair and square in front of the whole gym," said Cole, "My dad, all of the basketball coaches, and some students.  He challenged me to a best-of-ten and beat me by one."

In case you're wondering, the stakes of the friendly wager were not a commitment to Cincinnati.  The free throw contest was strictly for laughs, but it did reinforce Cole's belief that Butch Jones was the right college coach for him. 

"It showed me that he relates to us and we can relate to him," said Cole.  "I knew that if I needed to come to him about anything, he would be there.  If you can't relate to the head coach and if he can't relate to you, you're not in the right place.  It's not going to feel like home, you're not going to like it, and you're not going to play up to your potential.  You have to have that kind of relationship with your coaches to play up to your highest potential." 

"It was a great environment, it was all in fun, and I can't say enough about his character," said Coach Jones.  "He's a coaches' son and has a tremendous family.  We're very fortunate to have him in our program and he's doing exceptionally well right now."

Nate Cole UC.jpg

At Tuesday morning's practice at Camp Higher Ground, Cole was working with the second unit on offense and Nate appears to be a solid bet to play as a true freshman.

"I think his chances are very good," said Jones.  "Right now it's still relatively early, but I see a lot of Alex Chisum qualities in him in terms of maturity and learning the playbook.  He's kind of a quiet-natured young man, but he's extremely competitive inside.  He's very driven and I could see him playing for us." 

"I have to get into the playbook and learn the plays," said Cole.  "It's really complicated.  There are different routes, different concepts, and different names for routes.

"My goal is to pick things up fast, and if they do throw me into the game to do my job.  My job is not to win games; it's to help to win games." 

And part of Butch Jones' job is to convince talented high school football players with numerous scholarship offers to choose Cincinnati.

"With where our program is now, we're able to go compete against the traditionally-rich football programs around the country," said Coach Jones.  "I think that speaks volumes for what we have to sell in our football program, our city, and the job that our coaches are doing."

Not to mention his free-throw shooting ability.

"Hey whatever it takes right?" said Jones. 

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Jameel Poteat and his recruiting hype watched behind Isaiah Pead last year. At Higher Ground, he's again showing the burst that made him a prized recruit and possible successor to the Rams running back.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. -- Only one week into Bearcats camp at Higher Ground, a noticeable development took place in the Bearcats backfield.

Remember the explosive running style that made Jameel Poteat one of the top 15 backs in his recruiting class? Well, after a year hiatus, it's back.

"He's shown quickness that he hasn't show before," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "What's happening for Jameel is the game is slowing down for him mentally and he's able to play fast. I tell you what, he looks phenomenal."

Poteat.jpgThe only thing more impressive than his play is his timing.

With the departure of Isaiah Pead, the need for a back to produce explosive plays and wear down defenses comes at a premium.

Pedigree insists he's capable. He broke some of the records held by Eagles running back LeSean McCoy at Bishop McDevitt High School in Pennsylvania. Poteat racked up 1,724 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior season, setting the all-time mark for career touchdowns with 84.

He fell from the man to watching the man last season with only 23 carries in Pead's sprawling shadow. Poteat played on special teams and for what it's worth did average 4.7 yards a rush when given the opportunity.

Though, upon arriving this year, he looks less like the back with wide eyes from last year's group and more like the highly touted star out of Harrisburg, Pa.

"
Defensive players told me today I got faster," Poteat said. "They asked, 'What you been doing in the summer?' I have a burst now that I didn't have. Coach (Butch) Jones and all my coaches tell me that."

Nearly as important as his burst will be his unselfish attitude. Despite an obvious confidence, he happily subscribes to the coaches plan to feature multiple running backs this season. With the power of George Winn (5-foot-11, 210 pounds), speed of Abernathy (5-7, 161), Poteat (5-10, 207) fits in as the all-around back.

At 5-10, 207 pounds, he's big enough to grind tough yards, while shown enough speed to break long runs. The combination of the three only makes the individual parts stronger in his eyes.


"We all bring something different to the table," he said. "Isaiah is probably going to be the best to ever play here, but we all complement each other and we are going to be fresh subbing in. It is going to be hard for defenses to game plan against us because of our different styles of play."

Finding a rhythm amid the rotation will be an early challenge, but Poteat believes finding a groove will be easy enough. He learned plenty about being prepared to play from the sidelines last season. Bajakian says his work on special teams helped acclimate him to the speed of the game and became a major reason why he's returned with confidence.

"It humbled me just having to sit out," Poteat said. "I feel like last year I was ready, but I really wasn't as much as I thought I was going to be. So I stood back and watched the best. But I feel like once the season start and I start getting my rhythm I'm going to be back to myself again."

This may or may not become Poteat's breakout season, but certainly the season opener is custom built for him. Remember, Poteat originally committed to Pitt, but instead switched to UC.

Now, in his first season playing a central role, he opens on ESPN Thursday Night football against the hometown team he passed over and their star running back Ray Graham.

"I go home, people are at my door, they can't wait," he said. "Everybody is at my house at home (talking about the game). My mom text me when the schedule came out and said everything happens for a reason. I can't wait. I really can't wait."

Winn's place to show

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Well, I made it through two speed traps on I-75 and I-74 to get to Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana today.

As strange as it sounds, I really enjoy getting a chance to watch football practice this time of year so I can get a preview of what's to come.

Plus, the hospitality of the dining hall is always top notch and I was able to witness a veteran reporter devour a number of cookies and another threaten to drive out for the evening practice just for the rolls. 

The food is top notch.

So, were the kids I talked to today.  The one I'll post first here is George Winn, senior running back.

Though we all remember Isaiah Pead having a standout game in the Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt, the longest run of the game came from No. 32 out of Detroit.

Winn had been a solid back-up all year to Pead and he proved his worth when Pead came out with a helmet issue and Winn answered with a 69-yard touchdown run.

That's called effective substitution!

Winn is now battling for the top job in the backfield with the likes of Ralph David Abernathy, sophomore Jameel Poteat and freshman Tion Green among others.  At least early, they'll all likely play.

He's also sporting a pretty respectable beard as you can see from my little video chat:


With Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros gone, the players who Butch Jones distributes the ball to in key situations must change. The Bearcats search for an offensive identity dominates every snap at Higher Ground.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - There were few secrets surrounding the 2011 Cincinnati Bearcats offense. Isaiah Pead will touch the ball. He will touch it a lot. You probably won't stop him. When Pead doesn't touch the ball, Zach Collaros will pick apart the defense at a better than 60 percent completion clip and run for the most important yards.

Collaros and Pead are now gone.

MunchieLegaux.jpg

Questions remain in their wake. Who will earn those critical snaps? What will be the identity of this offense.

With so many new faces holding important positions, only the Bearcats coaches truly know how they envision this offense looking Sept. 6 against Pitt.

What do we know? It will look much different.

"Our goal going into spring was to identify those guys whose hands we need to get the ball into," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We had an inclination, but when the lights go on those guys need to step up and make plays. It is ever-evolving. Guys are stepping up. Some guys are a surprise, for sure."

The unknowns and parity of playmakers will likely give this offense a different feel than in previous seasons. From the rotation of running backs to the depth at receivers, touches will be more spread out than in any at UC under Butch Jones.

Last season, Isaiah Pead touched the ball on 31 percent of snaps. Of the non-quarterbacks, no other player touched the ball more than six percent.

As far as receptions go, the passes were distributed relatively evenly between the combination of Anthony McClung, Kenbrell Thompkins, D.J. Woods and Pead.

Catch distribution 2011:

Pead: 17.5%

McClung: 22.0%

Thompkins: 20.0%

Woods: 16.6%

Chisum: 8.5%

The options far outweighed what occurred in 2010 when Armon Binns and Woods dominated the passing game. UC went from four players touching the ball at least 16 percent of the time to only two catching it better than 11 percent of the time.

Catch distribution 2010:

Pead: 10.4%

Binns: 29.9%

Woods: 22.7%

Barnett: 10.0%

Guidugli: 9.6%

McClung: 8.8%

The 2011 model fits better with what Bajakian and Jones prefer. Their philosophy depends on depth. A threat at every corner of the field creates the ideal scenario. As great as Binns and Woods were and as much as they deserved the touches, spreading out the options made the offense much more prolific in 2011.

"The key is to identify the playmakers, to figure out how to get them the ball," Bajakian said, "but at the same time give the quarterback the ability to distribute the ball with what the defense is giving them."

What will that mean for 2012? Without Pead, the ability to distribute still exists. In fact, it would be fair to expect no one non-quarterback to touch the ball on more than 15 percent of the snaps. Indeed, this year could be a power in numbers. Much of distribution will come down to quarterback - at this point Munchie Legaux. He understands how much the identity forms during these two-plus weeks at Higher Ground.

The exciting element of this season in Clifton will be amount of unknown to be unveiled. This will be the first glimpse at the new future of Bearcats football. This will be a clearer focus of the Jones vision. By all accounts, the vision will attack from a variety of angles.

"That's what we at camp for right now to see who is going to be the game-changer for those games," he said. "Who is going to make the plays Isaiah Pead made? We are not just relying on one person to make those plays we are relying on the whole offense. From the receivers to the running backs from tight ends also."



Bearcats Breakfast 8.13.12

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The Bearcats strapped on the pads for the first time this camp last night. I headed out for the night practice and can attest the energy spiked.

In the live action period George Winn had a carry up the middle he broke for about a 15-yard TD run, but two yards before the goal line absorbed a hit so hard his helmet popped straight into the air and landed on the ground about the same time Winn did. George still finished with the ball and in the end zone. Dude is tough as nails. Was fun to watch.

Plenty more from camp coming.

Let's eat...

--- The sounds of Higher Ground are unique this year. Butch Jones calls them controlled chaos. I think he's just attempting to force us media types into the fetal position.

Tommy G put together a piece on the speaker cart which has been blasting the sounds of a crying baby and intermittent sirens into the ears of quarterbacks and the rest of the offense this year.

The crying baby sound is particularly comical and all too real for some. Though, don't look for offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to complain about it.

'That got me fired up," he said. "I got an 18-month-old at home and three-and-a-half-month old at home, who I miss tremendously. I hear that crying and everyone else is covering thier ears and I am saying, 'Man, that is music to my ears right now.'"

Bajakian finds the sound of a crying to bring out the best from every aspect of his life, apparently. He knows exactly why that works on the young group he is molding.

"We like our guys to be in stressful situations where their backs are against the wall," he said. "That is where they learn."

--- More fodder emerging on QB
Munchie Legaux. He's the primary storyline of this camp, this season. Assuming he holds off Brendon Kay for the starting job which appears close to a lock, he'll be the biggest reason they succeed or fail to win a Big East title.

Dan Hoard spoke with him here. And also posted this blog here.

I've touched on the completion percentage issue here before and Dan mentions it in the video interview. Year 2 provides a reason for optimism particularly when considering the small sample size and nature in which Munchie was thrust into last year's offense.

Remember, while the base will be the same, last year's offense was tailored to the talent of ZC and Isaiah Pead. With an attack built to better utilized what Munchie does well and throws he's most comfortable with, his numbers should rise.

Personally, I was impressed with Munchie's maturity level. The way he carries himself, speaks and confidentally preaches his message was noticeable. He's definitely changed in attitude, the biggest question will be how much has he changed in execution.

He says he studies much more than he used to. It was probably the biggest lesson he drew from the three-game stint at the helm.

"That's the big key, you have to know what you are doing before you go out there," he said. "You can sit there and coaches can draw up a million plays, but it is up to us to go out and execute them. You can sit on the sidelines and say you can do this you can do that. Until you are really out there with those crowds in the middle of the field it's a different ballgame. Everybody think it's easy but it's not."


--- Hey, remember when everyone wrote stories wrote about Jordan Luallen switching from QB to WR in the spring?

Hey, remember, when everyone wrote stories about Jordan Luallen switching from QB to WR to LB three days ago?

Well, he's back at WR now.

Predicting his next position is my goal. What will Jordan do next? If anything happens to Tony Miliano or Pat O'Donnell, I bet Luallen can boom it.

--- Matt Fortuna wrote about the Bearcats rotation of running backs. He focuses on Jameel Poteat, George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV. Those will likely be the three to receive the majority of carries this year, though, Bajakian mentioned Tion Green and Dionte Buckley as really catching coaches eyes thus far.

--- Reminder: Pat O'Donnell is good at punting. CBSSports.com's Matt Rybaltowski ranks him atop those in the Big East.

--- Another story on John Williams, this time from Tim Adams.

--- Isaiah Pead made his Rams debut yesterday. Not a huge flash, but did receive plenty of work. He came in for the second series which is a great indication of how much time he'll receive alongside Stephen Jackson.

He had 10 rushes for 33 yards, with a long of 11. He caught three passes for nine yards, returned a kickoff 30 yards. Unfortunately, he also lost a fumble.

--- The Big East selected Chris Bevilacqua, who helped the Pac-12 negotiate their deal, to perform the TV contract negotiations.

No word if they are concerned with his involvement overseeing the controversial JFK High race between Jerry Seinfeld and Duncan Meyer.

Randomness...

--- Yes, I'm late on this and yes, this was the enemy in last year's Liberty Bowl, but love this video of a walk-on at Vandy receiving a scholarship. What college athletics are all about.




Legaux Hopes To Go From Spectator To Spectacular

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When Cincinnati faced Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, New Orleans resident Munchie Legaux was in the Louisiana Superdome watching his future school.  

But he was rooting for UC's opponent.

"I didn't have the Bearcats on my mind at the time," said Legaux.  "I was just there enjoying the game because I was a big Florida fan at the time.  Shortly after that - I'd say about a week later - Coach Jones gave me a phone call.  I was like, 'Wow, that's the team that just played in the Sugar Bowl.'  I was interested and took a visit and here I am today."

Legaux in bubble.jpg

As he enters his junior year at Cincinnati, Legaux is battling senior Brendon Kay in training camp to be named the Bearcats starting quarterback.  Munchie is the likely front-runner after starting the final three games of the regular season last year for the injured Zach Collaros.  After losing in his first start at Rutgers, Legaux led UC to wins over Syracuse and UConn that gave the 'Cats a share of the Big East title.

"He grew a lot," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.  "He became more comfortable, saw things better, and played within the offense.  Just understanding that the key to this offense is completions and keeping the ball moving.  I think early on, he tried to do too much.  As time has progressed, I think he understands that we have to let our playmakers make the plays and it's our responsibility to get the ball in their hands."

"(My teammates) have some trust in me now because I stepped up for a guy like Zach Collaros who was a leader," said Legaux.  "I feel like those guys trust me because of last year, but I can't dwell on the past.  That was last year and this is a new year." 

Head coach Butch Jones has made it clear that he would like to name his starting quarterback early in training camp and says he's looking for one thing in particular in making the choice.

"Consistency," said Jones.  "Just getting better each and every day and managing our offense.  Knowing when to throw the ball away, knowing where your playmakers are, understanding down and distance situations, and everything that goes into playing quarterback."  

"They're looking for a guy who can come out here and be consistent on a daily basis in everything that he does," said Legaux. 

The coaches are also looking for Legaux to display the leadership qualities that are essential at the quarterback position.

"I see him getting more and more comfortable in that role and getting more assertive," said Jones.

"It's a process," said Bajakian.  "Sure there is an inclination on the part of some people to have that presence, but we talk a lot about leadership being a skill.  Just like the skill of a three-step drop, just like the skill of throwing the deep ball, it's something that you have to work on and improve upon.  No matter how good or bad that you are, you can always improve upon it." 

After getting his introduction to Bearcat football as a Sugar Bowl spectator, Legaux is looking to be front and center in 2012.

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Stepp.jpg

Derek Wolfe and John Hughes moved on via the top three rounds of the NFL Draft. Left standing in their NFL wake are Jordan Stepp, Camaron Beard and a host of hopefuls with giant shoes to fill.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - Ascending to a starting position for the first time on the college level provides a pressure that can overwhelm many. The expectations, the responsibility, the leadership brings with it a vicious degree of difficulty.

If only the task was that easy for defensive tackles Jordan Stepp and Camaron Beard.

Those two not only are being asked to step into a starting role for the first time in their young Bearcats careers, they are replacing the two players selected in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft. Derek Wolfe (Denver, No. 36 overall) and John Hughes (Browns, 87) arguably represent the best defensive line duo in UC history.

Good luck, newbies.

"Initially, I was worried, but you are going to have that," said Stepp, a junior. "You have a big senior class leave you are going to be worried, but when you go through spring and have a great spring like we had, summer with a phenomenal summer and see how guys are working. All those worries go away. I know we see it, we are not blind to it, hey, you going to fill those footsteps? Coach Jones even asks us that. But it's about Team 125 and pulling together. We know that's all we got. We got all the pieces of the puzzle to get it done."

Hughes.jpg

Those pieces are staring down a Wolfe/Hughes puzzle that contributed 34 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks last season. Of course, Stepp deserves a portion of credit for their production. He became part of a three-man rotation that allowed all three players to stay rested throughout the game. Stepp took about half the snaps of the other two and managed half a sack and two tackles for loss in limited action.

Nobody will be asking Stepp to increase his production by 1000 percent to replicate Wolfe. Nor will anybody ask Beard to jump into his first significant action as a sophomore and morph into a third-round draft pick. Defensive coordinator Jon Jancek will rely on a deeper rotation to help fill the void rather than place all the pressure on Stepp.

"It will be a little more by committee," he said. "We got to find out (our depth). We are going to have to roll some guys in and keep them healthy."

The rotation begins with the 6-foot-1, 268-pound Stepp, who comes in a different package than his predecessors. Wolfe (6-5, 295) and Hughes (6-4, 300) towered over centers, but Stepp utilizes his leverage to find his way to the ball.

Beard (6-5, 275) more fits the defensive tackle profile, though a bit on the skinny side. He played predominantly end in high school but made the transition to the middle. By all accounts, his learning curve experienced a spike this offseason.

"He just doesn't have a lot of snaps," Jancek said. "He's certainly come a long way, people don't get to see it but he's really improved."

Defensive line coach Steve Stripling brings Beard along and nobody around UC would doubt he'll accomplish the goal of grooming a starter. Finding a coach with a better pedigree of players would be difficult. Beard feels the pressure applied to fill the gap, but values staying within himself at this point.

"It's exciting, but a little nerves are good," Beard said. "I try to stay relaxed and focused and just play my role on the team."

The addition of three-year starter at Central Michigan, John Williams, adds depth and maturity to a group previously boasting but one senior (Adam Dempsey). After Williams, Jancek expects Dempsey and Mitch Meador to compete for a spot as well. Freshman Alex Pace arrives at a thick 298 pounds, but as a freshman, expecting an immediate contribution would be surprising.

For all those who remain at the position, the legacy of Wolfe and Hughes not only lives on, but provides reason to believe it will continue.

"The big thing about why John and Derek had so much success, you wouldn't find the other nose tackle or d-tackle going after the ball getting down-field tackles like that," Stepp said. "Just makes you realize how hard those guys worked. Living that whole year out last year passed that mentality down to me and the rest of the younger guys."

Headed out to Higher Ground this morning, so no big breakfast. Grab an Eggo and roll out.

Paul Daugherty wrote a nice piece on Butch Jones and Bill Koch updated on Central Michigan transfer John Williams with his unique background. Butch Jones Blog on Drew Frey entering his sixth (!) UC camp.

Tommy G with sights and sounds from Day 1.

Look for plenty more coming on the blog as I attempt to find an Internet signal in the backwoods of West Harrison.

In the meantime, Stevie Wonder only seems appropriate.

On Monday we took a look at the five questions the Bearcats must answer by the time they leave Higher Ground. Today, we flip the script and look at the five biggest reasons they should be excited as Day 1 of camp begins.

1. Wide receivers. Every year the recruiting needle pushes to red in the wide receiver category. With the recent history of players like Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns thriving and moving on to the NFL the best high school wideouts have been drawn to UC. Those recruiting boons are beginning to show.

The top trio of Anthony McClung, Kenbrell Thompkins and Alex Chisum are among the most exciting in the Big East. McClung led the team in receiving last year with 49 receptions for 683 yards and six touchdowns. He's established a quick connection with QB Munchie Legaux, as evidenced in the final game of the regular season against UConn when he racked up a UC season-high 142 yards in the air.
 
ChisumPitt.jpgThompkins didn't break onto the scene as many expected of the former Tennessee commit, but was solid with 44 receptions for 536 yards. Approaching his senior year and second in the system, the expectations are high Thompkins will deliver on his incredible talent.

Funny we mention Binns earlier as Chisum looked like a second version of Armon last year. He may have as much upside as any receiver in the program and with a full offseason working with the offense will only make him better. Bold prediction: Chisum will lead UC in receiving.

The list of talent runs on and on behind those three with Chris Moore, Braxton Lane, Damon Julian, physical freak Dyjuan Lewis and many more waiting in the wings.

2. Walter Stewart.
This year's Derek Wolfe? Those are large, angry shoes to fill, but Stewart strides down the same path. He took ownership of team leadership this offseason and holds as focused as in any time during his career.

On the field, he surged as last season drew on and played like an unstoppable force during the second half of the season. He recorded at least one TFL six of the last seven games of the regular season and finished the year with 11. He also racked up five sacks over the final five games of the year. That includes the amazing sack, strip, score against UConn.

Only two players in all of FBS averaged better than one sack per game last year as Stewart did over the final five. A year of that effort and Stewart could be among the top pass rushers in the nation.

3. Defensive backfield. Experience covers each corner spot as players who have proven themselves fill both positions. Cam Cheatham and Deven Drane both played well last season and return to hold down the starting spots. Remarkably, Dominique Battle will still be around as he attempts to shake his injury-riddled past in his senior year.

Drew Frey brings experience in his final year at UC and will be the undeniable leader in the back end. The spot next to him will have a new starter with Wesley Richardson moving on, but with so much experience a newcomer will have plenty of qualified teachers.

4. Mike Bajakian. The offense coordinator returns for his third season at UC. The right-hand offensive man of Butch Jones developed a rhythm as last season progressed and successfully worked both veterans, youth and the perfect amount of Isaiah Pead in to create a potent attack.

With so many young pieces, he'll need to do some of his best work, but he hasn't let Jones down yet and that's why he brought him over from Central Michigan with him. With Bajakian at the helm, the UC offense will be in good hands. 

5. Team Chemistry. Jones has become a master of this concept. His players battle through adversity and grind to the final seconds as well as any in the country. Spy their string of fourth-quarter comebacks last year for proof. He's cultivated a family atmosphere conducive to extracting the best out of each player. Combine that with a team now filled with a majority of players he personally recruited and his vision comes into clearer focus. This is not more his team than any in history and that is great news for UC football.

Checking in with Cheikh

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As you grow older, you do grow somewhat wiser, which is why I often try to accomplish multiple things at once.

Since my youngest son is attending Mick Cronin's Basketball Camp at UC this week (and in full disclosure, I paid the going price) I thought I might as well talk to one of the players that assists in coaching the kids.

Players that are assisting include JaQuon Parker, Ge'Lawn Guyn, Shaq Thomas and Cheikh Mbodj. In the Olympic spirit of international relations, I chose Mbodj, the recently slimmed down center out of Dakar, Senegal.


Mbodj.jpg
(Cheikh Mbodj)

Q: Tell me how you dropped all of the weight....


A: I just managed to change my diet and stuff. Since my ankle is healthy, I did some extra running and conditioning. That's how I ended up dropping 25 pounds.

Q: Do you feel faster?

A: Dropping the weight really helped my ankle and my mobility out. I can tell I run faster and jump higher.

Q: You guys are going to play fast, right?

A: Yep, yep. We're going to play faster this year. A lot of high motion stuff. We're going to be like a pretty good fastbreak team.

Q: You're helping the kids out here in the camp. Is that fun for you? What kind of things did you do when you were small?

A: I really love helping the kids out and being around them. Years ago, I was one of those kids back in Senegal. I can't imagine how they feel being around us.

Q: And you didn't play basketball until you were older?

A: I was around 14. I can just imagine--I never had the chance of doing this (going to camps).

Q: In Senegal, your sport was soccer?


A: In Senegal it was soccer.

Q; What position did you play?

A: I used to play the right back on the defensive side. I was like those players trying to stop the forwards and stuff. A defensive guy.

Q: Were you tough to get around?

A: It wasn't easy to get around me in soccer.

Q: Did you get to do any of the goal kicks?

A: Yeah, I used to do the free kicks a lot. I was heavy-footed.

Q: Could you kick it to midfield and beyond?

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Do you miss playing it at all?

A: Sometimes I just play around with it. I grab a ball and dribble with my legs and stuff and do some tricks.

Q: Can your teammates do that?

A: My teammates probably can't.

Q: Do you watch the Olympics and keep up with the World Cup and things like that?


A: Yeah, I watch the Olympics, like USA basketball. I watch basketball most of the time. It's really fun watching it.

Q: Do you watch Olympic soccer also?

A: Olympic soccer, yeah.  Senegal was in it, but sadly we lost. We lost to Mexico the other day.

Q: Are they pretty decent?

A: Yeah, they made it to the quarterfinals so that's pretty decent.

Q: When was the last soccer game that you played?

A: It was a while ago, when I was a kid.

Q: Do they need more scoring?

A: It's really different than basketball. The game is longer. It's 90 minutes long without counting the additional time they can add to it. I just miss it.

Q: Do you ever see the soccer team here and think about running out there?


A: I have a couple friends that play soccer over here. They're really cool people. Sometimes we play around.

Q: In football, could you try to placekick?


A: Football, the only thing I do with them is running. I don't play football.

Q: Have you ever kicked a football?

A: I never tried. That would be interesting.

Lining up a 6'10" kicker would be interesting.  Lining up a 6'10" lineman to rush the kicker might really be interesting.

The landmarks are rolling by now. You know when you are driving on a summer vacation trip and point out small victories along the way to break up the ride?

"OK, let's just focus on reaching the World's Largest Pickle and we'll be halfway there."

Well, today the UC football team reports. That's a big pickle.

Tomorrow comes the first practice at Higher Ground (before you ask, no, the practices are not open to the public). And we are less than a month away from the opener against Pitt at Nippert.

While we are on that topic, this movie trailer produced by the UC video department has been raising goosebumps all over Bearcat Nation. I recommend watching if you're having any trouble growing excited for the opener.



On that note, let's eat...

--- I'll open with an invitation for you. I'll be heading out to the first practices this week and want to know what you want to know. What questions do you want asked? What stories do you want written? What aren't we talking about that we should?

Shoot me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) to relay to me your questions, comments, suggestions, complaints.

--- An interesting development
occurred over the weekend when associate football commish Nick Carparelli went on with Dan Hoard on 700WLW and stated he believes the conference can fetch more than the ACC per team in the TV deal negotiations. Now, whether that comes from ESPN in the two-month exclusive negotiation window that begins Sept. 1 or after Nov. 1 when it opens to competition is yet to be seen.

Though, I would be shocked if the Big East reached a deal with the Worldwide Leader before reaching the open market. A huge deal like that would suddenly level the playing field and alter the negative perception the conference fought the last year. All yet to be seen but incredibly pertinent to the future health, competitiveness of UC athletics.

--- Here's the NY Daily News discussing the possiblility of NBC Sports being the bidder willing to open the wallet for the Big East.

--- On to this year's Bearcats, Andrew Force talks about the defense and the changing face of leadership headed by Walt Stewart and Maalik Bomar.

--- Bill Koch wrote a general preview piece this weekend on the new look of the Bearcats as camp opens. Informative as always. And showcases a number of questions surrounding the team going forward.

--- Perfect transition in case you missed my piece yesterday on the Five Questions the Bearcats Must Answer at Higher Ground. The title's pretty self-explanatory.

--- Bearcats Nation takes a swing at the
same concept with his 5 Storylines for Fall Camp.

--- A brand new setup for Tommy G, as he unveils BearcatsTV and opens with Butch Jones previewing training camp.

--- Quick basketball note, apparently Sean Kilpatrick has been tearing it up at the Adidas Nations tournament featuring some of the top college talent.

"Sean Kilpatrick -- Impressed scouts once again with his rugged style of play. He has a strong body and he's extremely physical and has good ball skills and solid decision making. In the night cap he went for 24 points on 10-20 shooting. He capped that off by recording 8 assists. Ray McCallum was the top point guard in camp and Kilpatrick was clearly the best SG in attendance. Scouts compared him to Jodie Meeks and mentioned that they liked the fact that from a distance he doesn't get huge lift on his shot but has a concise, quick release."


--- Josh Harrison doing the
darn thing last night for the Pirates.

--- First depth chart out for the Colts and former Bearcats lineman Jeff Linkenbach listed as the starter at LG. Also, Armon Binns with a great weekend for the Bengals as he led the team in the mock game with five receptions for 69 yards including two acrobatic receptions falling out of bounds. Looking more and more like a lock for the roster.

--- Some randomness...

--- Guys with
shaved heads seem tougher, according to this study (h/t MP). Maybe Dan Hoard and I can parlay this into a comic book movie about our intimidating lifestyles.

--- Even in lego form, Usain Bolt is ridiculously fast.

--- Dan Harmon of Community still bitter. As am I.

--- Hard Knocks returns tonight with the Miami Dolphins. Will Chad Johnson/Ochocinco/Johnson make more of an impact on the field than on camera? Child Please. Here's a preview of episode one.

--- The DisAstros, ladies and gentlemen.

--- Yeah, I'll go cliche today, don't hate on Thin Lizzy, people.



UC opens training camp Wednesday at Higher Ground and will be out there for 16 days of football boot camp in preparation for the Sept. 6 opener against Pitt.

A young football team in need of players stepping up across the roster enters with a number of questions and hopes to leave with answers. What are they? Here are the five questions Butch Jones and his staff will seek answers for over the next three weeks.

1. Who can handle the reps at running back?

Replacing Isaiah Pead would be impossible. Maybe no back in UC history can replace his performance last season. UC needs to find an effective combination to take pressure off of Munchie Legaux. It enters with a number of candidates who'll receive reps, but three frontrunners: Jameel Poteat, Ralph David Abernathy IV and George Winn.

All three bring different skill sets expected to contribute at some point and likely some version of a three-RB rotation will emerge, but a strong camp could change the perspective or place one further in front.

Poteat appears the closest to an all-around back who could succeed Pead. He possesses all the physical skills and comes with all the hype as one of the top running back recruits in the country in 2011.

The Bearcats love Winn. He mostly filled the role of short-yardage specialist for Pead last season, but did all the little things coaches drool over and found a way to gain the tough yard. Look for him to fill the short-yardage role again this year, but certainly will do much more in the base-formation game.

RDAIV screams scat back. His explosive style fits the home-run hitter ability both in the backfield and catching passes in space on the outside. As Bill Koch wrote, UC plans on giving him plenty to do.

Two-back rotation? Three-back rotation? Poteat main with Winn and RDAIV situational? A freshman breaks through?

All questions that will be answered when UC leaves.

2. Munchie Legaux is the guy, right?


All indications are the QB job will belong to Legaux, but he needs to seize the opportunity at camp. If he falters, the door will be left open for Brendon Kay. Munchie's experience last year gives him a significant upper hand and Jones wants to name a starting QB early. As long as he shows the same progress seen during the spring, he should be the guy. But nothing's official yet.

3. Can Solomon Tentman hold down the middle?


One of the great stories of UC's offseason has been the rehab of Tentman from a catastrophic knee injury that occurred almost two years ago. He enters camp as the replacement for all-everything MLB JK Schaffer. Huge shoes to fill to be sure.

Schaffer racked up 325 tackles in three years, 28 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. He led the defense in every way imaginable.

Tentman doesn't need to do all those intangibles, but does need to be a force in the middle. Or, at least, somebody needs to be a force in the middle. In the spring Greg Blair, Clemente Casseus, Colin Lozier and Kevin Hyland worked behind Tentman. They will push him, but he owns the inside track.

Can he hold it?

4. Where does the defensive tackle depth stand?

Derek Wolfe -- second round, Denver Broncos. John Hughes -- third round, Cleveland Browns.

What becomes of the defensive tackle position as the two starters from last year move on the the NFL?

One of the reasons both Hughes and Wolfe were so successful last season was the rotation that kept them fresh. As games wore on, so did Hughes and Wolfe on opponents and fueled UC's repeated fourth-quarter comebacks.

Yes, Jordan Stepp returns as a key member of that rotation last year. But who else will join him and how much pressure will be placed upon Stepp to play extended snaps?

Others must emerge for the Bearcats to reach near the level of dominance up front that became the calling card of the defense.

Redshirt sophomores Camaron Beard and Roney Lozano head the charge to fill the space while names like the massive Brandon Mitchell (318 pounds) is among the young players coaches will be closely tracking this month.

The bottom line is Jones and company don't want a DT taking 80 percent or more of the snaps up front as Wolfe did in 2010. UC needs to develop depth and this will be the time to figure out how much exists.

5. What is the offense's identity?

This will be a larger post as camp commences, but to me becomes the biggest question not only of camp but of the season. The Collaros-Pead identity moved on and this offense filled with talented, but many unproven players must figure out what will make it go in 2012.

Will it be improved playmaking with the run/pass threat of Legaux?

Will it be the emergence of a three-headed monster in the backfield?

Will Anthony McClung, Alex Chisum or Kenbrell Thompkins take the next step as elite receivers?

When UC must have a big play, in what direction will it turn? As of today, that question remains unknown. Three weeks from now, it can't be.
The preseason Coaches poll was released yesterday and UC ended up 29th counting the also receiving votes category.

UC's spot gave more respect than the Big East media poll which placed them fourth behind Louisville, USF and Rutgers. Yet, in the coaches poll only the Cardinals at 27 were in front of the Bearcats.

Did I just mention respect, Bearcats and poll in the same sentence?

Kind of a rarity around these parts. Typically UC comes from off the radar to the mainstream after being underestimated by the national pundits. Perhaps they are finally taking notice of the successful undercurrent in Clifton.

Take a peak at the numbers pollster crunched.

They ranked the five most overrated and underrated teams by the poll over the last five years. UC was ranked the most underrated team.

Four of the last five years they have finished higher than the preseason rank in the AP poll. The 2010 year the lone exception when they weren't ranked in either.

Why do Bearcats fans and players constantly beat the drum of disrespect? Because it's very real. The numbers tell the story.

Let's eat...

--- Andrea Adelson spoke with Walter Stewart at BE Media Days. The team's dynamic leader probably should have told a ghost story out of the worst lighting ever.

--- The early storyline of camp will be the starting quarterback job. Bill Koch writes that CBJ wants to name a starter one week into camp. I'd be shocked if it weren't Munchie considered the experience gained last year. Jones said Legaux owns "the inside track."

The stat to watch for Munchie this year will be completion percentage. He completed just 47 percent of his passes last season and will need to be much better if UC is to compete for a Big East title. Confidence and knowledge of the season will help that, but that's a big jump to make in one year.

By comparison, Zach Collaros hit 61 percent of passes last season.

A jump in completion percentage wouldn't be out of the norm, though. Just look around the Big East and you'll find QBs who popped their completion percentage up every season.

Player, School          2009  2010  2011
BJ Daniels, USF       53.7   58.4,  58.9
Ryan Nassib, Cuse   52.9,  56.4   62.4

Looking beyond the Big East to some of the top QBs, they weren't always throwing darts.

Player, School          2009  2010  2011
Matt Barkley, USC    59.9   62.6   69.1
Tajh Boyd, Clemson  -----    52.4   59.7

How far can UC realistically expect Legaux's completion percentage to jump? Considering the small sample size of last year, it could be a large amount. If he ends up the season somewhere in the mid-to-high 50s that would be a major success with the element he brings in the running game.
 
Randomness...

--- Local favorite and strong Ohio Bobcat
Anthony Castrovince with a cool story on the baseball card bonanza in Ohio.

--- Disappointed myself and Dan Hoard were left out of the list of the region's top bald men. Bald truly is the new hair.

--- Ghostbusters without Bill Murray is not a Ghostbusters. If Bill's out, so am I.

--- The Pirates, Friday Fireworks and Shave Marty should make for a great night at the ball park tonight.

--- In his honor, how about a little Blue Man Group for the weekend? Enjoy it. Practice opens next week and we are under five weeks from Pitt at The Nipp. Almost there.



Bearcats Hungry For Another Big East Title

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The UC football team has won or shared the Big East title in three of the last four seasons, but when it comes to gorging themselves on lobster, the Bearcats have some work to do.

On Monday night at annual lobster-fest that kicks off Big East media days, the Cincinnati trio of Maalik Bomar, Austen Bujnoch, and Walter Stewart combined to eat five lobsters while a pair of Syracuse players ate seven and a half apiece.

Lobster at media day.jpg

"I had two lobsters and Bujnoch had three," said Bomar.  "They ran out on us so we didn't really get to attack it the way that we wanted to."

"I wish I could have had more," said Bujnoch with a grin.  "They cut us off - I was probably going to eat six or seven, but I only got to eat three."

"I'm actually allergic to shellfish but I still had a good time," said Stewart.  "They had excellent barbeque and it was still a great experience just seeing all that seafood.  I never knew that I would see something like that so I definitely appreciated it."

Of course, what the Bearcats are really hungry for is another Big East championship.

In the league's annual preseason media poll released on Tuesday, the 'Cats were picked to finish fourth behind Louisvlle, USF, and Rutgers.  It's worth noting that UC has finished higher than its preseason rank in six of seven seasons since joining the league and was picked for 5th, 3rd, and 5th in its championship seasons.

"We want to use that as fuel," said Bomar.  "That's the bottom line."

"At UC, we've built a legacy so we always expect the best," said Bujnoch.  "If we don't finish first, it's a disappointment each year.  We expect to be up there."

UC trio at media day.jpg

The three players chosen to "Represent the C" at the event in Newport, RI were picked by head coach Butch Jones for their leadership roles on this year's team - particularly Stewart who is listed among the leading preseason candidates for Big East Defensive Player of the Year. 

"Make no mistake about it - he is the face of our program right now," said Coach Jones.  "He owns the football team.  His leadership skills are dynamic, he's held everyone accountable including himself, and I think he's really worked himself into have a great senior year."

"With this being my senior year, I just wanted to step up," said Stewart.  "A lot of guys in leadership roles are gone and I take a lot of pride in being a Bearcat and trying to help lead my team to victory."

Preseason camp opens next week at Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana.

 "I'm excited to get out there and bond with the team," said Bujnoch.  "We have a lot of work to do and camp is where teams are born."

"We've been training hard all summer with the weight room and conditioning," said Bomar.  "It's time to attack the field and prepare for this season."

"I can't wait," said Stewart.  "Especially after all of the workouts.  Eventually you get to a point where your body starts telling you, 'Alright, it's time to get going.'  I'm really excited to get going in camp and we have big expectations this year."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Media day wrapped up yesterday and I have all the links to the pertinent information you need. And there was no better place to start than with Dan Hoard and UC video staff.

--- They spoke with Butch Jones here. The quote that kept ringing in my head after was Jones calling Walter Stewart the face of the program. Pressure has mounted on Walt like never before and he must have an incredible season both on the field and in the locker room for this team to make it four BE titles in five years.

-- The Bearcats were picked fourth in the Big East poll, Dan gauges reactions from Maalik Bomar, Austen Bujnoch and Stewart in this piece. Dan also points out UC has finished above its preseason ranking six of the last seven years. I ran these numbers for you earlier this month and mentioned them yesterday, but just one more time for you to remember and sound smart at parties this weekend, UC was picked fifth in 2011, third in 2009 and fifth in 2008. All three years they earned at least a share of the title.

--- Dan also posted this blog on the state of the Big East. Great points about the optimism emanating from Providence, RI.

--- Bill Koch on site also spoke on the conference's attempt to sell the country on the changes in place.

--- Bill with an update from Whit Babcock on financials and facilities upgrades.

--- Lenn Robbins of the New York Post discusses the hunt for a commissioner that is drawing near as one of the most critical crossroads in conference history commences.

--- USA Today says the Big East is tired of being the punching bag.

--- Andrea Adelson and Ivan Maisel discuss one of the oddest set of circumstances in the history of college football.

--- Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore wrap up BE media days.

--- CBSSports.com on what
each team was saying at yesterday's event.

--- Newsday on the challenges of change.

--- Ray Graham says his knee feels good. We shall see how good on Sept. 6.

--- Camp Higher Ground begins in one week. Almost here, folks. The trucks are on their way up. Photo courtesy Tommy G.

--- Randomness...

--- Top 25 fan signs of July.

--- Don't bring back the Brady Bunch. Some shows need to live in their era and never come out.

--- NBC may be
the villain of the Olympics, but they shouldn't care because their ratings are fantastic. They hit a 24 share last night.

--- No, I will not be calling Snoop Dogg Snoop Lion.

--- Came across this song today and think I'm a fan. Have a great Wednesday everybody.