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Know your nonconference opponent: Cincinnati

Gunner Kiel leads a Cincinnati attack that has been explosive at times in recent seasons. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Throughout the week we’ll be checking in with some of the non-conference opponents facing off with Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect out of the less familiar opponents on this year’s league slate. Today we'll look at Cincinnati.

Opponent: Cincinnati (at Purdue, Sept. 10)

Names to know: QB Gunner Kiel, RB Mike Boone, RB Tion Green, LB Eric Wilson, S Zach Edwards

Offseason storyline: Cincinnati was consistently inconsistent and finished 7-6 last season. The offense (537.8 yards per game), when it was clicking and Kiel was healthy, was one of the hardest in the nation to slow down. That side of the coaching staff was plundered during the winter, which leaves new coordinator Zac Taylor to figure out how to turn all those yards into more consistent points.

Taylor, who called plays for Miami the past couple seasons, plans to keep a fast-paced attack while mixing more of a running game and short throws. There are still some doubts about whether Kiel, who missed the spring game with shoulder problems, will be healthy enough to play. The biggest problems last season for the Bearcats were penalties and turnovers. If they can limit both and make some improvements on defense, they have the horses to hang with the rising crop of AAC powerhouses.

What’s at stake for Purdue? The Bearcats represent Purdue’s best chance to get an encouraging non-conference win under its belt before taking a crack at the Big Ten schedule. A very young secondary will get its feet dangled over the fire if Kiel and his new group of receivers are back in 2015 form by the second week of the season. On the plus side, Cincinnati gave up nearly 200 rushing yards per game last season. Sophomore Markell Jones will have a chance to rack up some early stats and build confidence after a breakout freshman season.

What’s at stake for Cincinnati? A win against a Power 5 program, even if it is a struggling one, is a good start for head coach Tommy Tuberville and company. Houston -- the league favorite -- visits Cincinnati the following weekend, which is a bigger game for the Bearcats. A win at Purdue, though, would have the team feeling good about itself going into what could be an early pivotal game in AAC play. Kiel, who grew up less than two hours from West Lafayette in southern Indiana, has some personal motivation playing close to home in his final college season.