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Hope and concern: Cincinnati

5/25/2011

We've come to the end of the line in our hope and concern series, where we've been taking a look at the biggest reasons for optimism and pessimism for each Big East team's 2011 season. Since this went in reverse alphabetical fashion, the Cincinnati Bearcats will wrap things up.

Biggest reason for hope: The Year Two phenomenon

The best thing Butch Jones can say about his first year as Cincinnati's head coach is that it's over. But there is cause to be excited even after that 4-8 debut season. Teams that get new head coaches typically see rapid improvement in the second year, as players and staff members adjust to one another and become more comfortable. Don't forget that the Bearcats were used to winning big under Brian Kelly and must have approached any changes in their way of doing things with skepticism. But now they've been humbled and have every reason to listen to Jones, who is well liked by the team. It also helps that all of his assistants are back, so there is no need to get used to any new offensive or defensive systems. Zach Collaros should understand the offense even more at quarterback, and all 11 defensive starters are back to try and improve on last year's performance. Some recent Big East coaches have experienced the leap in Year Two (Bobby Petrino, Doug Marrone, Rich Rodriguez, even Kelly). The Bearcats hope Jones is the next one to do so.

Biggest reason for concern: Depth

Kelly didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare when he went to Notre Dame, but it's fair to say that some of his final recruiting efforts didn't keep the pantry fully stocked. Jones has to deal with that in key areas like the offensive line and linebacker, where quality backups are hard to find. The good news is that there appears to finally be some depth on the defensive line, which had to rely on its starters far too much in 2010. The secondary has more bodies, though it could use some true stars. Jones has recruited well and is starting to build the roster back to where it needs to be. But if there are injury problems on the O-line, at linebacker or even receiver, the Bearcats could struggle to find adequate replacements, and Year Two under Jones might not look all that different from Year One.