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Belk Bowl preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Belk Bowl

Thursday December 27th, 18:30 ET (23:30 GMT)

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Duke Blue Devils


The Belk Bowl has been played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, since 2002, it was inaugurated by the NCAA as the Queen City Bowl went by the name of several different sponsors before Belk acquired the title sponsorship in 2011. Who are Belk? Well I'm glad you asked, Belk is a chain of department stores created in Monroe, North Carolina in 1888. Over the years it has grown to host stores at over 300 locations across the South, it's crowning glory being the 330,000 square feet flagship store in Charlotte a mere 20 minute drive from BoA Stadium.

Anyway, back to the game.

It currently features a match-up between the fifth best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the third best team in the Big East Conference. Last year's game was billed as a close affair, dominated by two good passing attacks, but not so this year.

The Bearcats (9-3) finished in a four-way tie for first place in the Big East with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse, the fourth time in the last five years they've captured at least a share of the title, but Louisville earned a spot in the BCS Sugar Bowl against the excellent Florida Gators (stay tuned for that preview) by virtue of its extra non-conference win. The Bearcats have been very successful defensively, holding their last four opponents to an average of 11.8 points and 130 rushing yards on the season, but they made a midseason quarterback change with Brendon Kay taking over for the struggling, yet brilliantly named Munchie Legaux last month. The senior is rising to the occasion and he's only 34 yards short on 1000 on the season, getting his first opportunity for extended playing time late in his collegiate career (although he'll be back next season after the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility). Travis Kelce, a tight end who threw a scoring pass to Kay in their defeat of UConn on a trick play also caught a touchdown pass from RB George Winn. Kelce leads the Bearcats with 599 receiving yards and seven TD catches, while George Winn has powered the ground game. The senior led the Big East with 1,204 rushing yards, 100.3 per game and scored 12 TDs good for the 32nd best rushing offense in the country.

A 6-6 season may not be special for most programs (Auburn would've grabbed a record like that this season) but at basketball powerhouse Duke the football team has been woeful and suffered through 17 consecutive losing season. It had almost gotten to the point where Mike Krzyzewski (Sha-shev-ski) was going to be football Head Coach as well as basketball supremo. The Blue Devils, went 37-158 (.190) from 1995-2011, including goose-egg campaigns in 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2006. This will be their first bowl appearance since the Hall of Fame bowl at the end of the 1994 season,

That's why Duke's 6-2 start eventually earned ACC coach of the year (not that hotly contested an award) David Cutcliffe a contract extension through the 2018 season, however they've limped into Bowl season, losing their last four games. Sean Renfree is this offense, the third-year starter had one interception over his final four games and an impressive eight for the season considering they've faced Stanford, Florida State and Clemson. Renfree's career-high 18 TD passes included a five-yarder to Crowder in the final minute of the 33-30 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, securing bowl-eligibility for the Blue Devils. Fellow senior Conner Vernon, who needs 45 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season, said his teammates are desperate to be the first bowl winning team at Duke since they beat Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, 1961. The only problem with that statement is they'll have to do it with a defense that ranked 103rd against a pretty good Bearcat rushing game that averages nearly 200 yards a game. Not the best position to plot Bowl success from.

FOR CINCINNATI TO WIN

Run the ball straight at Duke, they've been weak against the run and Cincinnati has picked up a ton of yardage on the ground, so why move away from a gameplan that is clearly working. Once the running game is punishing Duke, they can search for the long ball, and no doubt more trick plays.

FOR DUKE TO WIN

Erm, try to recapture their form from the first half of the season, because the crap they've shown in the last 4 games is going to hand them a beating. They have to find a way to shut down the Bearcat running game, and that might be difficult as neither defense has anything to write home about. The only solution might be to air it out, early and often.

VERDICT

I expect Cincinnati to dominate this one, yes it's nice to see Duke back bowling after such a long absence, but they struggled once they secured their eligibility and the sheer scale of the task at hand in this one means I've got to go with the Bearcats. Oh and if Cincinnati is kicking off in this game, look out for the onside kick. That's just the kind of thing they get off on.

ADVICE

Cincinnati -7.5

Over 60.5 points

DRINKING GAME

1 drink: Every time the 17 years of Duke losing records is mentioned

2 drinks: Every time a player other than a Quarterback completes a pass.

Finish it: When the TV coverage show an aerial shot of BoA Stadium and SouthPark Mall.

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