About three weeks ago, then-Bearcats coach Mark Dantonio said he believed Cincinnati (7-5, 4-3) would be contending for a Big East title within three to five years. Nobody knew it would be without him, but things changed quickly when Michigan State came calling. Dantonio couldn't resist. He took defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi with him and was replaced by former Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly, who will coach the Bearcats in the Jan. 6 International Bowl (ESPN2, Noon ET).
The program is in better shape than when Dantonio arrived in 2004 and will return plenty of young talent for Kelly. Cincinnati was the surprise of the conference this season with a 4-3 league record, including a 30-11 shocker Nov. 18 over then-No. 7 Rutgers.
MVP: Senior linebacker Kevin McCullough (68 tackles) spearheaded a unit that did not allow 100 yards rushing in any of its seven home games. McCullough had nine tackles (three for loss) in the upset win over Rutgers. That included a play late in the first quarter, when he helped set the tone for the victory by standing up fullback Brian Leonard for a 1-yard loss on a screen pass.