End of Year Cincinnati Bearcats Football Roundtable

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Matt from Down the Drive, Scott from Bearcats Blog, and I got together in the middle of the season to talk Bearcats football as UC was gearing up for Big East play. What we liked. What we were concerned about. Who was going to go nuts in the second half. What our favorite uniform combo was. You know, stuff like that. This time around we are passing out awards and answering a few questions to wrap up the season.

Enjoy…

Most Valuable Player

Chris: Isaiah Pead. It just has to be. When Collaros went down against West Virginia, UC fans were scrambling for answers. They soon realized that with or without Collaros, Pead is the best player on the Cincinnati Bearcats. His numbers speak for themselves and he strapped the rest of this team on his back and carried them to a Big East championship this season. There is no other player on this team more important than Isaiah Pead.

Scott: Isaiah Pead. Pead was the best player on the field when UC had the ball the past 2 seasons, and they finally used him as such. When he was having success, UC was having success. When UC wasn’t having success, Pead wasn’t touching the ball. The Syracuse game plan was built around getting 23 the ball in different spots. Pead had a monster game and the Bearcats romped. If he went down instead of Collaros, I don’t know if UC wins a game the rest of the way.

Matt: Isaiah Pead. It was always going to be Pead. At times this year he put the team on his back in the same way that Mardy used to. He just made so many plays to keep UC in games and in the case of Syracuse and Louisville, to effectively end them as well. Pead already has 14 TD’s on the year, which is already tied with Marcus “Bones” Barnett for the 4th best single season total. The record is 17 so he conceivably has a chance to break that if he blows up against the commodores. Put simply this team would have struggled to make a bowl game without Pead. With him 10 wins are in play.

Offensive Player of the Year

Chris: It’s easy to tab Pead as both the MVP and Offensive POTY, but I’m going to hand this award out to left guard Randy Martinez. I could be wrong but believe Mr. McSaucy didn’t miss a game this season and was a rock on the interior of the offensive line. He was especially vital to establishing stability as the two behemoths to his right were taking more snaps than they had ever in their college careers. Seeing a veteran next to them surely aided their development. I was really excited to see Martinez named to the All-Big East 1st team.

Scott: Like Chris, I want to pick someone different, but I really can’t. Collaros had some flashy games, but he never really was great. None of the receivers really stood out. It’s Pead. He’s the man.

Matt: I am going to go way out on a limb here and take an offensive lineman. And not the one that you expect either. Evan Davis was a huge part of the Bearcats success this season, particularly in the ground game. The way that he put his nightmare at Fresno State behind him and went out and performed this season was really impressive to me. He didn’t get any post season plaudits, which is a shame because when I would go back and watch games he often was the 1st or 2nd best lineman. Randy Martinez was stellar all year, but there is no way the offensive line is nearly as good without Evan Davis at Center.

Defensive Player of the Year

Chris: You could pretty much flip a coin between J.K. Schaffer and Derek Wolfe since they each had such spectacular seasons. But Schaffer has really developed into a vocal leader on the defense to compliment his play on the field. He’s also had the task of bringing along true freshmen Nick Temple and Dwight Jackson whereas Wolfe has a compliment of veterans around him. So the nod goes to J.K. in my mind.

Scott: Derek Wolfe. No Bearcat dominated on defense as much as Wolfe. He was unblockable in games. He made an impact pushing the offensive line when he wasn’t making tackles. Wolfe had a big part in changing the game. UC had a great front line. Wolfe was the best player in that front line. He gets my vote.

Matt: Derek Wolfe. Posted the best single season I have ever seen from a UC DT, and very few DTs in general have matched his level of performance for a season. Just one more time for the people at home. 19.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks for a DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Special Teams Player of the Year

Chris: Pat O’Donnell. Without a doubt. For some odd reason O’Donnell didn’t make the list for the Ray Guy Award finalists. That was a shocking to me considering how he could flip the field in a single kick. His 76 yard bomb against NC State was incredible and really shifted momentum in the Bearcats’ favor. You could argue that his kick really jump-started Cincinnati’s offense and defense that night. Luckily, Pat’s only a junior and UC will have another year of his services. I’m certain he’ll be a Ray Guy Award finalist next season.

Scott: Pat O’Donnell. When you have a punter who can flip the field on any kick, that’s a special weapon. It was a surprise when he didn’t kick over 40 yards. If he can keep it up, he will be punting in the NFL in a couple of years. Orion Woodard was a tackling machine covering kicks.

Matt: Orion Woodard. Pat O’Donnell is one big reason why UC’s kick coverage units were so good this year. The other is Orion Woodard who can proudly wear the special teams demon tag for the rest of his life. This season alone Woodard came up with 23 tackles. Thats a lot for a guy who plays basically 10 snaps a game.

Best Catch

Chris: Alex Chisum’s leaping touchdown grab against South Florida was my favorite catch I’ve seen this year. I must have watched it a hundred times in just that one weekend. Chisum had made solid contributions to the Bearcats as a situational fourth receiver but that touchdown grab jettisoned him into the spotlight. There might not be one UC fan who doesn’t know the name Alex Chisum after that catch. If he goes on to have a great career as a Bearcat, and I think he’ll have at least a good one, we will have to mark that catch as the one that sparked it.

Scott: Chisum against USF. If Chisum turns out to be a star, this is going to be the highlight that showed off his potential. If he flames out, this highlight will remind us of what could have been. It will be a part of the defining moments of Chisum’s career.

Matt: Adrien Robinson against Miami. I was tempted to go with Alex Chisum’s catch against South Florida and Kenbrell Thompkins against West Virgina but in the end its Robinson for sheer degree of difficulty/badassery.

Best Hit

Chris: J.K. Schaffer’s pop on Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd nearly cost me my computer as I leapt from my couch when the UC linebacker pancaked the helpless Dodd. Not only was it a menacing hit that could be heard from the upper deck of that tin can Rutgers University calls a football stadium. The Bearcats looked okay on offense at that point in the game but Rutgers was a touchdown away from taking control. The sack by Schaffer on a long third down kept the Scarlet Knights from taking most of the momentum. And it gave Dodd something to think about for the rest of the game.

Scott: JK had a couple of big time hits, like against West Virginia where he killed someone. I’m going to use my vote for Derek Wolfe on the clothesline sack against Tino Sunseri in the Pitt game. He looked like the Ultimate Warrior or something when he ran through Sunseri. That hit stands out.

Matt: This one.

Best Pick

Chris: Drew Frey’s pick-6 against UConn. I’ve given him a lot of crap over the past two years but he made a stupendous play on the ball. Watching Frey from the snap, it almost was like he was in the pocket as he knew where Johnny Mac Attack was going to throw the ball. He jumped the route and had the easiest touchdown of his life. Even beyond the actual play, Cincinnati had proven to UConn that they weren’t going to run on the Bearcats. Frey’s play showed the Huskies that they couldn’t throw on UC, either.

Scott: It wasn’t really a pick, but I’m going with Walter Stewart taking the ball off of Johnny McEntee’s shoulder. I’d never seen anything like that before. One could say he picked McEntee’s pocket. I will say that.

Matt: Deven Dranes over the shoulder Willie Mays effort against USF. Drane is going to be a good one.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year

Chris: He’s not really a freshman (in fact he’s a sophomore) but this was his first experience on the offensive line at the college level. Austin Bujnoch is going to be a star at guard for UC as the immovable object protecting whoever is going to play quarterback for the Bearcats in the future. I just loved how he absolutely abused the Tennessee defensive tackle on Isaiah Pead’s touchdown run in Knoxville.

Scott: Ralph David Abernathy IV. I can’t even remember who returned kicks last season, but I’m pretty sure I’ll remember who returned kicks this season and for years to come. RDA IV gave UC a big dynamic in the special teams. He didn’t break any punts for TDs, but he set up a couple of scores with long runs. I almost voted for Danny Milligan, even though he’s been on the team for a couple years, just because he got put in the lineup and made DJ Woods stop returning punts.

Matt: Alex Chisum hands down. I was tempted to go with Austen Bujnoch, but he isn’t really new. A new starter, but not new. Chisum has had the most productive freshman campaign for a wide receiver since Earnest Jackson broke onto the scene in 2004.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year

Chris: Deven Drane. The Bearcats have been lacking a shutdown corner since Mike Mickens and his Mr. Fantasic-like arms graduated from UC three years ago. I think Cincinnati has found the early moldings of a Mickens v2 in Drane. I think he got the short end of the stick in the first half of the year being stuck behind Dominique Battle and Cameron Cheatham despite getting rave reviews in fall camp. He’s been a shining light in that secondary since filling in for Battle permanently after his injury.

Scott: Deven Drane. Drane was really the only new guy to break in for the Bearcats’ defense. All of the line was returning. The new linebackers didn’t get much run. The safeties didn’t change. Drane was the newest addition and he was quite the addition. He’s got the makings of a very solid corner. All he does is get INTs int the red zone.

Matt: Nick Temple. He started 7 games a true freshman. That in and of itself is a rare feat. No bearcat true freshman has started a game on defense since 2005 when the hallowed class of 2008 got their start by being thrown to the wolves.

Most Improved Player of the Year

Chris: Tony Miliano had some big shoes to fill replacing all-awesome kicker Jake Rogers. That’s never easy to do as a green true freshman. He’s had his share of missed field goals but Bearcats fans have seen what kind of leg Miliano has and how accurate he can be. He shouldn’t be at fault for the WVU blocked kick and did well in clutch situations against Pitt. UC has had its share of strong kickers throughout its history and Miliano looks to be another good one.

Scott: Drew Frey. Frey had a tough start to the season, but I think he was very solid to close. He didn’t really get burnt in coverage. He made a lot of tackles in the run game. He got a couple of picks. He broke up a lot of passes. Frey finished second in the team in tackles with 67. A lot of people were highly critical of him, like me for instance, but Frey closed the year very well and looked like a new player.

Matt: It has to be Drew Frey, and it pains me to say it. I still don’t understand how or why it happened but there it is.

What happened to DJ Woods?

Chris: I think Woods like the other receivers had a down as a result of the coaching staff realizing that they should get the ball in Isaiah Pead’s hands as much as they can. I think a couple of other factors were at play here: Adjusting from the slot to the X or Z receivers, getting more coverage as the team’s #1 receiver, Munchie taking over at quarterback and finding a preferred receiver in Anthony McClung.

Scott: I don’t know, that’s why I asked you guys. I thought he was poised to take over the spot of top receiver, but it looks like DJ just doesn’t have that in him. This seemed to be a season of frustration for him. He had some drops. He was horrible as punt returner. Losing that job had to hurt his confidence. Woods would get his screen or 2 a game for a while, and they went nowhere. I kind of feel bad for him, except he blocked me on twitter for some reason, so I kind of don’t. The passing game in general wasn’t great this season. That throwback play was a thing of beauty though.

Matt: A general lack of focus and consistency are the biggest culprits. Woods just wasn’t as good game in and game out as McClung and Thompkins, and late in the year Alex Chisum really took over the roll of the third WR. The other big factor is schematic. Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian have always fed the slot guys. Antonio Brown did all his damage with the Chips from that position. So I figured that Woods prduction would taper off a bit and McClung would get more looks, particularly with Bajakian having to work around Zach’s height issues with waggles, half rolls and bootlegs. But I was not expecting DJ Woods to fall off the face of the earth.

Why didn’t people go to the games?

Chris: I think the majority of UC fans simply weren’t confident in Butch Jones as head coach after his 4 – 8 campaign. Following a personality like Brian Kelly who did what no other coach before him did while with the Bearcats is difficult. It didn’t help that Butch kept spewing phrases like ‘hold the rope’ and ‘represent the c’ while the season was spiralling down the crapper. After an extremely successful 2011 campaign, Coach Jones has proven he’s the right man for the job and a blue-collar guy that’s the perfect fit in the city of Cincinnati. I think attendance will rise next year.

Scott: This is another question I don’t know the answer to. The most obvious thing is that people didn’t believe in the Bearcats this season. Austin Peay wasn’t going to draw a crowd. Akron happened after the Tennessee disaster. NC State was just disappointing attendance wise to me. The PBS games should only be for big time opponents like West Virginia. I know Louisville travels very well, but faith in the Cards wasn’t as high as it would be by season’s end. Louisville football is not Louisville basketball. I think the UConn game didn’t get people because the Bearcats didn’t have a chance to win the Big East outright. If they did, maybe that one gets close to selling out. Not breaking 30K for any Nippert game is a let down.

Matt: Part of it was the start times. 6 home games, 4 daytime starts, 3 noon games. We all know it is much easier to get people to UC games at night, and that the atmosphere, regardless of venue, is far better at night. I think that there is also something to be said for the more casual elements of the UC fan base being a bit more cynical about the program. They are going to hold back a little bit because of what has happened the last two times round with coaches. The jilted lover thing was in full effect after Brian Kelly left because of how hard everyone fell for the program. The simple fact of the matter is that until proven otherwise there will be a perception among some in the community UC Football is not worth really investing your time, money, interest and money in because the coach will always leave. The only way to change that is to get a guy who will stick around like Rick Minter and win like Brian Kelly. Butch Jones could be that guy. But I don’t really know yet.

Favorite game of the year.

Chris: Cincinnati’s last home game against UConn. Maybe it’s just me, but I love Senior Days and how the coaching staff and fans honor their 4-5 years of service wearing red and black. UC dominated that game and it was nice to see the Bearcats finally play on the turf in Nippert Stadium. It reminded me how much of a homefield advantage UC really has there and how I don’t want to see them ever play a conference game in Paul Brown Stadium ever again. Plus in this game we got to witness Walter Stewart make the most amazing play out of a defensive player I’ve ever seen.

Scott: The win at South Florida. I didn’t have the utmost confidence that UC would go to Tampa and win. I thought they would, but I wasn’t sure. Then USF takes the lead. The Chisum catch was effing awesome. Then USF throws a fade to take the lead. The last drive of that game was awesome. That was the game that signaled this wasn’t last year to me.

Matt: N.C. State. Because kicking ass, at night, at Nippert is what UC Football should always be about.

Most hated opposing player.

Chris: Josh Chichester. I dunno what it is about him but he’s a hometown player that went to arch rival Louisville and continues to get high praise simply because he’s like 12 feet tall. That’s about it. I just hate seeing him succeed.

Scott: I can’t stand Tino Sunseri. I couldn’t stand him before this year. Couldn’t stand him non-conference. I got so pissed off when he was tearing apart the UC secondary the first half of the Pitt game. I was so glad when UC shut him down. Then there was the West Virginia game, where he played QB like an a-hole. It’s all his fault West Virginia is playing Clemson in a game no one cares about.

Matt: It’s a cop out, but I don’t really have one. With a gun to my head i would say Sio Moore for generally bitchy behaviour constantly trying to start shit with Isaiah. But that’s about it.

One thing you’ll take away from this season.

Chris: Cincinnati can win championships. Since joining the Big East, people have doubted that coaches can win at UC. Brian Kelly proved that you can win by going to two straight BCS bowl games. With him leaving, people doubted that anyone could win again at Cincinnati since Kelly seemed like a miracle worker. Well the Bearcats overcame the coaching change and won another Big East title with Butch Jones. Despite playing in what is now considered a ‘small’ stadium and a small budget, Cincinnati has been able to recruit with the best programs in the country. In essence, UC does more with less, overcomes adversity, proves the haters wrong, and has built a winning culture. It’s exciting to say the least.

Scott: Cincinnati football isn’t going away. There might be a down year here and there, but Cincinnati is to the point where it’s a program that should go to bowl games every year or every other year. They are to the point where they can compete for Big East titles. I don’t know about you guys, but I went to UC games as a kid and didn’t watch the games half the time. On games my football team went to, we played tag football or something. There were times when I would go sit behind the opponents bench because there was no one there. Thinking back of how that was 15 years ago, UC football has come long way. Good coaches are coming here and building something. Other good coaches are adding to it. UC football is running strong.

Matt: That Butch Jones is the perfect fit for the program at this stage in its evolution. I hate Mike Thomas and generally think that he is an incompetant fool who somehow lucked into his gig at UC. But Jones is another hire that he knocked out of the park. Its a good thing he can do that well because he sucks at everything else and I am really happy that Illinois took him off our hands.