Hood, Colonels will get early test

It's not easy making your head coaching debut against a team that won a bowl game and finished 17th in the final Associated Press poll.

That's the task facing Dean Hood and his Eastern Kentucky Colonels when they visit Cincinnati on Thursday night.

The Bearcats went 10-3 and tied for third in the Big East last season, their best record since 1964 when they were 8-2.

Eastern is coming off a championship season of its own, winning its first Ohio Valley Conference title in a decade and finishing 9-3.

Hood, a former EKU aide who had been Wake Forest's defensive coordinator, inherited nine starters, including OVC Offensive Player of the Year Allan Holland.

Holland, a quarterback, was recruited by Hood at Wake Forest, then transferred to Eastern after his redshirt freshman season.

Holland won the starting job after one game last season and finished with 1,990 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He led the Colonels to their first playoff appearance since 1997.

Cincinnati ha d its own star quarterback, Ben Mauk, who passed for 3,121 yards and 31 touchdowns. After injuries earlier in his career, Mauk made several appeals to the NCAA for a sixth season this year, but they were rejected. Mauk lost his latest appeal Wednesday.

That returned Dustin Grutza, a two-year starter from Mason County, to the lineup for his senior season. He earned Big East Player of the Week honors by throwing for a career-high 290 yards in a victory over Miami (Ohio) last fall.

Holland and Grutza will both be operating against defenses that are coming off impressive seasons.

Cincinnati was 13th in scoring defense (18.8 points a game) among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Bearcats led the nation with 26 interceptions and shared the lead with 42 turnovers.

Eastern ranked first in the Football Championship Subdivision with a turnover margin of plus 18. The Colonels scored 107 points off turnovers and allowed just 20 points off their own mistakes.

Safety Brandon Gathof is one of the FCS's top returning defenders. A pre-season All-America pick, he led the Colonels with 59 solo tackles last season.

Cincinnati wide receiver Dominick Goodman will challenge the Eastern secondary. He had 68 receptions for 869 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Freshman wide receiver Marcus Barnett set a school record with 13 scoring catches. Four returning wideouts combined for 173 catches for 2,361 yards.

The 2007 Bearcats were 16th in scoring offense, averaging 36.3 points a game. They had an average winning score of 42-8.

Cincinnati shut out Eastern 31-0 two years ago in the first meeting between the two programs.