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July 18, 2008

Bearcats have uncertainty at QB

That noise you heard in late April were the cheers from Oklahoma's defensive front four when the NCAA denied Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk a sixth year of eligibility.

Last season, Mauk and the Bearcats, under first year head coach Brian Kelly, set school records left and right, including 472 total points.

Cincinnati finished 10-3, was ranked (No. 17) for the first time since 1976 and produced the nation's 16th best offense.

Now when the Bearcats roll into Norman for the second game of the season, gone is what would have been arguably the best quarterback in the Big East.

Mauk was appealing the NCAA's ruling after an injury he suffered as a junior while at Wake Forest. While he's filed yet another appeal to the NCAA, Mauk's future at Cincinnati looks bleak at best.

For now Mauk is a no-go which means the Bearcats have a big hole to fill at the signal caller position in '08.

The two candidates competing to take over behind center are Demetrius Jones, a sophomore transfer from Notre Dame, and senior Dustin Grutza, who started 21 games before Mauk arrived, but recently was limited to signaling plays from the sidelines.

Jones by far had the bigger spring, going 5-of-9 for 136 yards with a touchdown in Bearcat Bowl II, Cincinnati's annual spring game.

While Jones might be the "sexier" pick as a duel threat quarterback, he's still recovering from a torn labrum, and insiders say its Grutza's past experience that will more than likely give the senior the nod when the Bearcats open up against Eastern Kentucky Thursday August 28.

Look for Grutza to take on a similar role former Sooner quarterback Paul Thompson accepted in 2006. Grutza is an average quarterback who will not win games on his own, but does understand how to use the athletes around him.

Speaking of those "athletes", other than the quarterback position, the Bearcats return six players from the other ten positions on offense.

Four returning starters on the offensive line should provide plenty of time for Grutza to get rid of the ball and at the same time open holes for junior running back Jacob Ramsey.

Ramsey brought in a lot of expectations out of high school and even jumped three seniors at the end of last season, as he started four games. However, cause for concern quickly came when he managed only 126 yards as a starter.

With more seasoning in 2008, Ramsey should make the offense more successful with the majority of its talent at the wide out positions.

Senior Dominick Goodman proved himself last year when he caught 68 passes for nearly 900 yards (869). Goodman will team up for the second straight year with sophomore Marcus Barnett who set a school record catching 13 touchdowns while racking up 862 yards of his own.

Cincinnati's third wide receiver is no slouch either. Junior Marshawn Gilyard, who doubles as a solid punt returner, started eight games in '07 and had 536 yards as Mauk's third target.

With OU bringing back only two starters in the secondary, the game plan for the Bearcats' offense will be simple: when and doubt, hit the (wide) out.

Most of Cincinnati's weaknesses lie on the defensive side of the ball.

A year removed as the nation's leader with 42 takeaways, the Bearcats will be hurting to replace five starters.

One position that was hurt by exits was defensive end. OU's strength at offensive line should have no trouble with the pass rush now that the Bearcats have moved two players from different positions to the "end".

Connor Williams, a starting tight end a year ago and Craig Carey, a backup quarterback last season will fill the two end positions, that to say the least, will be extremely thin.

The rest of the defensive line should be pretty solid with a pair of seniors in Adam Hoppel and Terrill Byrd securing the tackle slots. Hoppel is a returning starter and Byrd was a second team All-American last season.

Finally, Cincinnati's secondary is without question the strength of the defense and arguably the most valuable position for the Bearcats.

The Sooners trio of Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Jermaine Gresham will definitely have their hands full with one of the nation's top cornerback duos.

Seniors DeAngelo Smith and All American candidate Mike Mickens combined for 14 of the Bearcats 26 interceptions a year ago.

On one side note, the one scenario the Bearcats are praying to avoid is for the game to ride on the back of their kicker.

Last year's starter Jake Rogers is returning. However, he connected on only 11-of-19 as a freshman. It's safe to say nothing will be guaranteed for the upcoming sophomore. If he does win the job, OU should like the fact he'll have to kick in one of the nation's toughest environments.

The bottom line? After playing a FCS opponent in Tennessee Chattanooga out of the gates, the Bearcats will be a good tune-up for Oklahoma before the Sooners hit the road in game three when they head to Washington. Especially if Demetrius Jones can win the starting position at quarterback since he resembles a lot of what OU will see against Washington's Jake Locker.


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