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March 17, 2010
Kelly went from CMU to Cincinnati in 2006, and Butch Jones was hired to replace him. When Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame this offseason, Jones again was named to replace him. This time, the challenge might be a little tougher. Kelly led Cincinnati to back-to-back Big East championships and three consecutive double-digit win seasons. As a result, a once-moribund program now hopes to compete for BCS bids on an annual basis.
If Jones' career at Central Michigan is any indication, he is up to the task. He led the Chippewas to two MAC titles in three seasons.
In at least one way, Jones is more prepared for the Big East than Kelly was when he arrived at Cincinnati. Jones was offensive coordinator at West Virginia from 2005-06, a run that included 22 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth.
Jones' first priority will be to repair a defense that was shredded in the final five games of the season. The two biggest offensive stars -- quarterback Tony Pike and wide receiver Mardy Gilyard -- are gone, but the Bearcats have plenty of experienced candidates to take their spots.
Here's a look at Cincinnati as it prepares for spring drills.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Jones won't inherit Dan LeFevour like he did at Central Michigan, but the coach shouldn't complain much, either. Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson have been forced into emergency duty at times the past two seasons because of injuries to Pike. Both are undefeated as starters and both give Jones a run-pass threat at quarterback. Despite Gilyard's departure, Cincinnati has depth at receiver. Armon Binns and D.J. Woods each caught more than 50 passes last season. RB Isaiah Pead also could be poised for a breakout season after rushing for 806 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
Cincinnati lost two all-conference offensive linemen in T Jeff Linkenbach and C Chris Jurek. C.J. Cobb was a backup at several positions, starting once at right guard. He'll take over at tackle. C Evan Davis was used sparingly. Though only five starters return on defense, many more saw playing time. Cincinnati hopes inexperience -- not a lack of ability -- caused the Bearcats to finish last in the Big East in total defense. Cincinnati will return to a 4-3 scheme after spending last season in a 3-4. Only one starting lineman (Derek Wolfe) returns.
THREE GUYS TO WATCH
LB Dorian Davis: Davis, a Tennessee transfer, backed up Andre Revels in his first season on campus and could claim a starting role as a senior.
E Dan Giordano: While Wolfe is the only returning starter on the defensive line, Giordano saw plenty of time in the rotation as a backup. Giordano, a sophomore, had seven tackles for loss and 42 overall tackles last season and should be even more productive this season.
WR Vidal Hazelton: Binns and Woods should be capable replacements for Gilyard, but the unit will be even better if Hazelton lives up to his high school hype. Hazelton will be eligible after transferring from USC, where he caught 50 passes for 540 yards and four TDs in 2007.
THE PRESSURE IS ON
WR Marcus Barnett: Barnett caught 13 touchdown passes as a freshman. His total catches dropped to 30 as a sophomore and 10 last season as a junior after coaches toyed with the idea of moving him to defense. Barnett has one more chance to resurrect his career, but he'll need to crack a deep receiving rotation.
Jones followed Kelly at Central Michigan and kept winning conference titles. There's no reason Cincinnati fans can't hope for the same for the Bearcats. They have their flaws, for sure, but every Big East team has work to do this spring. The defense is a work in progress, and Collaros must prove he can sustain his high level of play for an entire season.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.