The 2023 Cincinnati football season has come to an end, but the action continues. The Cats finished with a record of 3-9, dropping nine of their final 10 games. It was expected to be a rocky one as uber-successful Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell left the program after leading it to heights not quite seen before. New coach Scott Satterfield has a respectable track record but was faced with a tall task this season. The inaugural year in a Power Five conference and a completely revamped roster made things difficult. Now that year one has concluded, Satterfield and Cincinnati look to align things the way he envisions with the help and the hurt from the transfer portal.
In the current NCAA, the transfer portal is beginning to look more and more like a professional free agency cycle. Cincinnati was hit hard by it last year, but it also brought in some key contributors in Xzavier Henderson and Daniel Grzesiak. In the young offseason that has just begun, several key pieces from Cincinnati have already entered the portal.
Big Blows to the Cincinnati Defense
Deshawn Pace Leaving Cincinnati
There’s been a Pace brother anchoring the Cincinnati defense for a few years in a row. Ivan and Deshawn Pace have lamented their name and legacy in the Bearcats football program. Ivan has found his way to start for the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie, undrafted free agent. Now, Deshawn will take his next step. He announced his desire to enter the transfer portal shortly after the season’s conclusion. He was the defense’s leading tackler this season, despite missing a game due to a violation of team rules. It never seemed like Pace and this new coaching staff meshed very well, especially after some comments he made upon the announcement of his exit. It may be the case that both sides were ready to move on here, but that’s not to say that the Cincinnati faithful won’t miss the versatile, hometown hero playing for the red and black.
Key Secondary Pieces Leave
The Cincinnati secondary was arguably the weakest group on the defense this season. In a defense that overall disappointed, there were constant questions about the back half. After the announcement of the desire to enter the portal by several guys, questions have gotten a lot louder.
Multi-year starting safety Bryon Threats won’t be manning the Cincy secondary next season. He’s entered the portal as a playmaker on defense and will undoubtedly find his way to be a contributor for someone not named Cincinnati next season.
Cornerbacks Sammy Anderson Jr. and Justin Harris have both decided to leave the program as well. Anderson began the season as the starter but went down with an injury in week one that turned out to be season-ending. He expressed some public disagreement with some of the staff on whether he was ready to play in the middle of the year, but he never returned. He was replaced by Harris, who started most games at corner, before he was eventually replaced by redshirt freshman Kalen Carroll. Carroll held up well and, assuming he stays, will be a big piece in the secondary next season.
Several other defensive backs entered the portal, including Isiah Cox and George Udo. Both didn’t contribute on defense but were core special teamers, especially Cox.
Cincinnati’s offense was full of new faces from a year ago. The aforementioned Henderson, Braden Smith, Dee Wiggins, Aaron Turner, and Donovan Ollie all fought for roles in the wide receiver room. Ollie, however, found his way as the odd one out. His role slowly increased as the year progressed, but he didn’t get many opportunities and decided to leave Cincinnati after just one season.
Tight end Chamon Metayer made his decision to leave Cincinnati before the season was over. Metayer was a key piece in the offense and led the team in receiving touchdowns this year. With his departure, the tight end becomes arguably the position most in need of improvement going into the 2024 season.
Running Back Room Shrinks
The Cincinnati running backs were by far the most productive group for the entire team this season. That is a Scott Satterfield tradition. A borderline country-wide top-five rushing attack thinned after the season concluded. Miles Montgomery was a vital piece in the backfield as he rushed for over 400 yards and three scores. He was a nice complement to Corey Kiner, especially when Ryan Montgomery missed time with an injury. He entered the portal a few days ago and will likely be missed. Young running backs Shaun Thomas and Stephan Byrd entered the portal as well. Look for Cincinnati to work the portal themselves to gain some backfield depth for next season.
There isn’t all bad news for Cincinnati fans. Punter Mason Fletcher and defensive lineman Dontay Corleone were both named preseason All-Americans, and both return to the Cincinnati program in 2024. Corleone’s decision was especially surprising, as he has solid NFL draft stock and was on PFF’s most recent top 75 draft prospects list. Corleone is a hometown guy who grew up in Cincinnati and played high school ball at Cincinnati Colerain. He seems determined to be the biggest piece to help right this ship, and that’s incredible to see for Cincinnati fans.
Satterfield has a year under his belt now with Cincinnati and in the Big 12 conference. He and his staff recruited the portal hard a season ago. With the early exits of so many key players from this year, I’d expect the same to happen this off-season. Satterfield is known as a good recruiter, and once he gets his young guys up to speed and finds the right fit through the transfer portal, there’s optimism for brighter days in Cincinnati.