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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Midseason report: Cincinnati

By Matt Fortuna

CINCINNATI

Record: 5-0, 1-0 Big East

A three-year starting quarterback -- and a two-time conference first-teamer -- was gone. So, too, was the reigning Big East offensive player of the year, and all but two starting receivers were done as well.

And here Cincinnati is, coming off a share of its third Big East title in four years, standing undefeated just less than halfway through its season.

The Bearcats are No. 21 in the initial BCS standings, part of the trio atop the Big East, with a game at No. 16 Louisville next Friday night that will likely play a huge role in the conference race. They have notched at least 425 yards of offense in each of their five games so far, and their new quarterback, Munchie Legaux, has shown flashes of greatness, namely in leading his team past Virginia Tech Sept. 29 in Landover, Md., on a last-second deep touchdown pass. His accuracy needs to improve, but he is headed in the right direction.

Cincinnati currently boasts the best scoring and total offense in the conference, and its scoring defense trails only Rutgers. George Winn has keyed the Big East's best rushing attack, this after the Bearcats said goodbye to NFL draft pick Isaiah Pead.

Now comes the caveat -- the schedule.

Yes, the win over the Hokies was clutch -- and anything but a home game -- but Virgnia Tech hasn't exactly lived up to expectations this season. The Bearcats won't play their first "true" road game until this Saturday at Toledo. And they have faced two FCS teams so far (though, it must be noted, the scheduling wasn't totally in their control this year.)

In any event, Cincinnati has taken care of business. It obliterated conference rival Pitt in its first game of the season, and it has proven that, thus far, this program is in moving in a very strong direction under third-year coach Butch Jones, who didn't have easy shoes to fill when Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame.

The Bearcats have done all that's been asked of them so far in 2012, and that only make things more interesting down the stretch of a Big East race that figures to come down to the wire.

Offensive MVP: RB George Winn. Winn has rushed for 521 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. His 104.2 rushing yards per game are second-best in the conference. Not bad for someone who was relatively unknown until a breakout performance in last year's Liberty Bowl, which inspired some faith in the guy tasked with replacing Pead. So far, so good.

Defensive MVP: DE Walter Stewart. Jones raves about Stewart's leadership, and the senior has not let him down so far. On the field, Stewart has recorded five sacks in five games, and he has two more tackles for loss to go with a pair of forced fumbles.