Despite being listed as a head coaching candidate for Power 5 conference schools like West Virginia University and the University of Louisville, all signs point to University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell returning for a third year next season.
The 45-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native led the Bearcats to a 11-2 record this past season, which included a 35-31 win in the Military Bowl over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Returning alongside Fickell will be several of his playmakers from this past year. Redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder is expected to return at quarterback after taking over for senior Hayden Moore during the week one win over the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and leading UC to a 10-2 regular season.
Ridder suffered an ankle sprain during the first half of the Military Bowl victory and was unable to return. However, the injury required minimal recovery time.
UC is not losing any running backs to graduation, making it the deepest position on the depth chart heading into next season. Sophomore Michael Warren II ran 1,329 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2018. He capped it off by rushing for two scores and 166 yards in the bowl win.
Fellow sophomore Gerrid Doaks missed the entire 2018 season with a groin injury and is expected to receive a medical redshirt. If healthy, he will likely be Warren’s primary backup to start the season.
Freshmen Tavion Thomas and Charles McClelland will also return after seeing time in the backfield this year. Thomas rushed for 499 yards and six touchdowns, while McClelland added 485 yards and four touchdowns.
UC’s biggest challenge in the offseason will be developing an entirely new offensive line, as the Bearcats are losing seniors Garrett Campbell (center), Keith Minor (guard), Kyle Trout (guard), Dino Boyd (tackle) and Chris Ferguson (tackle).
The only departure at wide receiver will be three-year starter and all-conference performer Kahlil Lewis. However, juniors Rashad Medaris and Thomas Geddis will return as top targets for Ridder.
The defensive line will also need to be reconstructed, as defensive tackles Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland are graduating along with defensive ends Kimoni Fitz and Kevin Mouhon.
Juniors Perry Young and Bryan Wright are both expected to return after sharing time at middle linebacker this year. Young, who suffered a torn ACL in the Nov. 3 win over the United States Naval Academy, should be recovered and ready to begin next season.
The 2019 schedule features key games against the Pac-12’s UCLA Aug. 31, in-state powerhouse Ohio State Sept. 7 and the defending American Athletic Conference champion University of Central Florida Knights (date to be announced).
Fickell and his staff will focus on recruiting for the next couple of weeks, as National Signing Day is Feb. 6. UC has already signed 14 recruits during the early signing period Dec. 19, 2018.