Cincinnati offensive guard Austen Bujnoch is used to all the naysayers out there.
Last summer at Big East media day, for instance, he mentioned how the Bearcats' offensive line is always underrated headed into the preseason, only to exceed expectations on the field. One particularly low preseason ranking rankled him and his teammates so much, they used it for extra motivation and pinned it in the locker room.
Now here we all are, with spring in full swing as the 2013 season creeps closer. And the Bearcats have the unquestioned best offensive line in the Big East. Five starters return, including two first-team Big East picks in Bujnoch and tackle Eric Lefeld. Cincinnati was the only team with multiple selections to the first-team offensive line. Right tackle Parker Ehinger was a FWAA Freshman All-American.
To be sure, there are plenty of questions surrounding Cincinnati, but for once the offensive line is not one of them.
So that leads to my next question: Without the naysayers, what will the offensive line use for motivation this year?
"We just want to take the next step,” Bujnoch said in a recent phone interview. "It’s one thing to be the best in the conference. We want to be the best in the country. If you stay the same, you’re taking a step backward."
How exactly do the Bearcats become the best in the country? Bujnoch listed three areas where he wants his unit to improve: decrease sack numbers, improve rushing numbers and limit the hits to the quarterback. Cincinnati led the Big East in rushing yards a season ago with an average of 201.5 yards per game. That was No. 30 in the country. The Bearcats allowed 15 sacks on the season -- No. 2 in the Big East and No. 26 in the country.
So there definitely is room for improvement. What should be a huge help is the experience this group has, and the way they have bonded together since last season.
"We're all best friends. We all know what each other's going to do," Bujnoch said.
As for potential offensive changes with another new coach and coordinator, Bujnoch says any adjustments to the scheme are relatively minor.
"It's all the same thing, just called differently," Bujnoch said. "It all relates to what you already know, so that brings a sense of confidence that we’ve done it before."
Now all Cincinnati wants is to do it better than before.