Friday, August 27, 2004

Transition or triumph


The leadership of UC's 28 seniors will determine whether 2004 is a season of ...

By Bill Koch/ Enquirer staff writer


Senior George Murray (30 catches, 270 yards in 2003) leads a receiving corps looking to improve.
The Enquirer/JEFF SWINGER


While quarterback Gino Guidugli owns many passing records, it's his toughness that coach Mark Dantonio likes.
The Enquirer/JEFF SWINGER


Defensive end Andre Frazier
The Enquirer/JEFF SWINGER

M O R E   I N F O R M A T I O N
2003 IN REVIEW
Record: 5-7

Date Opponent Result
Sept. 1 East Carolina W, 40-3
Sept. 13 at West Virginia W, 15-13
Sept. 20 Temple W, 30-24 (3 OT)
Sept. 27 at Miami L, 42-37
Oct. 4 Southern Miss L, 22-20
Oct. 11 at UAB L, 31-14
Oct. 25 Army W, 33-29
Oct. 31 at South Florida L, 24-17 (2 OT)
Nov. 8 Rhode Island W, 31-24
Nov. 15 at TCU L, 43-10
Nov. 22 at Memphis L, 21-16
Nov. 28 Louisville L, 43-40

BY THE NUMBERS

5-26-2 Combined record of UC's last three head coaches during their first year.

9 Years that UC will have been in Conference USA.

23-30 UC's record in C-USA.

3 Consecutive losses to Miami.

6 Opponents on UC's schedule that appeared in bowl games last year.

8,820 Passing yards by quarterback Gino Guidugli, a school record.

2 UC wins over Ohio State.

0 UC wins over OSU since the dawn of the 20th century.

25 Years Mark Dantonio waited for his first head coaching job.

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats won't make their long-awaited leap to college football's so-called big time until next season, when they leave Conference USA for the Big East.

That will mark the beginning of a new era in the school's struggle to become a national entity in football. But the Bearcats hope to get a running start this season behind new head coach Mark Dantonio, who takes over for Rick Minter after three years as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Dantonio inherits a program that has been to three bowl games in the last four years but slipped to 5-7 last year, Minter's 10th as head coach.

The Bearcats return 28 seniors who hold the key to their season.

"What kind of leadership will they have?" Dantonio asked. "Are they going to be with us or are we going to splinter because we've only had six months with those guys and they know that after this year they're gone?

"You have to go through things together and they have to know that you're there for them. But I do think we have some good players."

Offense

In his first year as a head coach, Dantonio will have the advantage of a talented, accomplished, veteran quarterback in senior GinoGuidugli.

Guidugli already holds school records for career passes attempted (1,214), completions (670), passing yards (8,820), passing touchdowns (52), total offensive plays (1,406) and total offense (8,938 yards).

"Anytime you've got a good quarterback, you've got a chance," Dantonio said. "I like the toughness of our quarterback. People will follow tough people."

Whether Dantonio can surround Guidugli with the elements needed to produce a successful offense remains to be seen.

The line appears solid, if not especially deep, with four starters returning, including Kyle Takavitz, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago.

There's depth at running back, with senior Richard Hall (777 yards last year) owning the inside track to start. Terry Arnold (87 yards) is also in the mix. The Bearcats could also get a lift from incoming freshmen Delbert Ferguson, from Warren (Ohio) Harding High School, and Elder's Bradley Glatthaar.

But as good as Guidugli is, he still needs someone to catch his passes. That's an area that hurt the Bearcats last year and could be a problem again this season. At least six receivers are vying for playing time, led by senior George Murray, but no one distinguished himself either last year or during spring practice.

"Wide receiver is a concern because of the past year," Dantonio said. "But we have more experience there. We've got some young players that all they need to do is take that confidence level to the next step."

Defense

The Bearcats appear solid up front with first-team all-conference selection Trent Cole and second-team selection Andre Frazier at the ends.

Mike Wright, who has been slowed by injuries during his UC career, is the only tackle with experience.

Linebackers Jamar Enzor, Tyjuan Hagler and Jason Russell, all possessing impressive speed, form the heart of the defense.

Colerain High School's Doug Monaghan returns to start for the fourth straight year at strong safety and cornerback Daven Holly led the team with six interceptions last year.

"We've got a good front seven and we've got some experience in the secondary," Dantonio said.

The Bearcats must replace Zach Norton, a three-year starter at cornerback, and Franklin Callicott, who started last year at free safety. JaJuan Hall, who played in 11 games last year, will likely start at free safety. Converted running back Tedric Harwell could be the other starter at cornerback. Converted running back Carl Jones will also get a look at corner.

Special teams

Chet Ervin did double duty last season, making 10 of 17 field goal attempts and averaging 38.9 yards per punt. Chris Manfredini, a walk-on who handled the shorter field goal attempts and extra points, is gone, but the Bearcats signed Kevin Lovell, a placekicker from El Camino (Calif.) Community College.

They also signed punter Brian Steel from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College.

The job of returning kickoffs and punt returns is wide open. Carl Jones averaged 15 yards per punt return on nine tries last year. Mike Daniels may be the answer as the kickoff returner. In just three attempts last year, he averaged 25.3 yards. The Bearcats blocked five field goals last year and returned two for touchdowns. Frazier blocked two of those.

Coaching

Dantonio will be the first to admit that as a rookie head coach, this year will be a learning experience for him. But as rookie coaches go, few come more seasoned than Dantonio, who spent nine years as an assistant in the Big Ten and four years in the Big 12.

Having been a defensive coach all his life, he'll have to learn to work on the offensive side of the ball, too. But unlike Minter, who was a bit of a micromanager, Dantonio appears more willing to delegate authority to his assistants.

Dantonio has assembled a staff that looks promising, having lured defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi from archrival Miami (Ohio). Don Treadwell, who worked at UC under Minter as an assistant in 1994, returns after serving in 2003 as the offensive coordinator at Ball State, which set school records for passing yardage under his guidance.

Intangibles

The UC program made significant strides under Minter, who provided a measure of stability that was badly needed.

He also coached the Bearcats to their first conference championship since 1964 and took them to four bowl games.

But there was a sense at UC that the program had leveled off and new blood was needed for the move to the Big East.

The early returns on Dantonio have been positive. The players have responded well to him and his new staff and seem eager to play for them. The real test, of course, will come when the season begins and the Bearcats line up to play for real.

Make-or-break games

UC fans will get a sense during the first three weeks of the season what kind of team Dantonio will have in his first season at UC.

He'll face his old boss, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on Sept. 4 in the season opener in Columbus, where the Buckeyes have won 16 straight games.

The following week the Bearcats will host Miami (Ohio), looking to break a three-game losing streak to the RedHawks now that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is no longer there. And in week three, UC travels to Syracuse to play its future Big East rival.

UC plays at Louisville on Nov. 27 in a game the Bearcats hope will have a bearing on both the conference title and their bowl hopes.

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com

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