Record: 2-3 (0-0 Big East)
Cincinnati players got very used to winning the past two years as they went 23-2 in the regular season and captured back-to-back Big East titles.
So it felt awfully foreign to the Bearcats to start this season 1-3 under first-year coach Butch Jones. Still, dismiss their chances of adding a third straight league championship trophy at your own peril.
Jones appears to have righted the ship after after rough outings at Fresno State and NC State the first three weeks. In those games, the offensive line got bulldozed, causing Zach Collaros to run for his life. The Bearcats looked nothing like the team that scorched Big East scoreboards on the way to a 12-0 season in 2009.
But Cincinnati finally put things in gear during a 31-29 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 25. The offense operated with the high tempo and efficiency Jones demands, and the Bearcats showed they could compete with a high-caliber opponent. They carried that over into a 45-point first-half outburst against Miami of Ohio after a bye week.
At Central Michigan, Jones's first team started slowly and then ripped off a long winning streak to take the MAC title. He's hoping this team can follow the same path. It didn't look likely after three weeks, but Cincinnati could be ready to get back to its winning ways in conference play.
Offensive MVP: Isaiah Pead, RB
Collaros has been excellent when given time and things start with him. But Cincinnati's offense has taken off largely thanks to the Pead's health. He torched Oklahoma and nearly gained 200 yards in the first half against Miami of Ohio. Pead, who's averaging 9.8 yards per carry, brings much-needed balance to the offense.
Defensive MVP: JK Schaffer, LB
Schaffer is not an impressive physical specimen for his position, but he just makes plays. He ranks second in the Big East with 9.8 tackles per game and is Mr. Dependable for the Cincinnati defense.