Coming off a share of the 2011 Big East championship, the Bearcats look to redefine themselves after saying goodbye to QB Nick Collaros and conference offensive player of the year RB Isaiah Pead.

Optimism --

Munchie's the man: The silver lining to Nick Collaros' late-season injury in 2011 was the emergence of then-sophomore QB Munchie Legaux. After replacing Collaros against West Virginia (and nearly rallying Cincy for a victory), Legaux went 2-1 to finish the season, including two clutch wins to clinch a share of the conference title. If nothing else, Legaux got some big-game experience.

WR Thompkins gets his chance: Kenbrell Thompkins, a transfer from Tennessee two seasons ago, is coming off a solid year with the Bearcats. Although he was expected to do more than his average season -- 44 catches, 536 yards -- it can be attributed to the effectiveness of the Cincinnati run game. With Pead gone and a Bearcat offense that will probably be looking to throw, Thompkins can show off his skills.

Favorable past: Cincinnati always seems to be the team that's left out in the preseason but always on the cusp of a championship by season's end. This year is no different. The Bearcats are picked to finish fourth, but the league could be wide open this year -- again. Louisville is the run-away favorite, and they're definitely talented, but they're also young. This year, as much as any, is difficult to predict.

Pessimism --

Running back: Isaiah Pead left a huge void, and no one to fill it. The top returning rusher, senior George Winn, ran for just over 250 yards last season. Coach Butch Jones said he expects sophomore RB Ralph Abernathy to get more touches, but the Bearcats may be forced to to with the passing game.

D-Line departures: Cincinnati lost two defensive interior lineman to the NFL, including Big East co-defensive player of the year Derek Wolfe. The Bearcats have some defensive talent, including DEs Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano. Depth will be an issue, but they hope their all-around talent can prevent them from slipping too far from the defense that allowed just over 20 points a game last season.

Offensive identity: It's hard to predict what the Cincinnati offense will look like. Legaux, though full of promise, hasn't been named the starter by Jones. And with Pead and Collaros gone, it's difficult to imagine how this team will put points on the board, unless Legaux can hit WRs Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins. Because, as it looks now, running will be no easy task.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSSportsBigEast.