Kelly will try to maintain Bearcats’ upward mobility

By Darrell Laurant  |   Thursday, August 02, 2007  |  Comments( 1 )

Cincinnati Bearcats
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(This is the fourth in a series on Big East teams.)

University of Cincinnati football fans got a shining glimpse of the future last season -- their team's 30-11 upset of nationally ranked Rutgers.

That victory helped coach Mark Dantonio move on to a new job at Michigan State. Now, it's up to Brian Kelly to find out whether the Rutgers victory was a portend or a tease.

At least Dantonio didn't leave the cupboard bare. The Bearcats return versatile quarterback Dustin Gruztza, with Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk (apparently healed from a shoulder injury) to push him.

Top rushers Greg Moore, Butler Benton and Bradley Glatthar are also back, along with the inner core of the offensive line and top receiver Dominick Goodman. Doug Jones (6-foot-4, 276 pounds) has gone from being one of the nation's largest fullbacks to a supersized tight end.

A strong 2006 defense should be even stronger, led by lineman Terrill Byrd, linebackers Corey Smith and Leo Morgan as well as DBs Haruki Nakamura and Mike Mickens.

Will this be enough for the Bearcats to move into the upper echelon of their league? Probably not. For another year, at least, UC will probably continue to be the filling in a Big East sandwich -- better than Connecticut, Syracuse and Pitt, not quite as good as Rutgers, West Virginia and Louisville, about on par with South Florida.

The Bearcats open with two home games (Southeast Missouri State and Oregon State), then Miami of Ohio on the road, then Marshall at home. That should build up some confidence going into the conference schedule.

Moreover, Kelly has won everywhere he's been, and he's the only Division I-A coach to finish unbeaten at his school last season -- he came to UC just in time to lead them to an International Bowl victory over Western Michigan.

All this means, though, is that Louisville and West Virginia won't take the Bearcats lightly. That's a lesson Rutgers has already learned.

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