Thursday, December 27, 2012
Pregame: Belk Bowl
By Matt Fortuna
Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC)
WHO TO WATCH: Duke receiver Conner Vernon is the ACC's all-time leader in receiving yards following his 75-catch, 955-yard, seven-touchdown season. The Blue Devils have benefited from strong quarterback play from Sean Renfree, who has completed better than 66 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight picks. For Cincinnati, quarterback Brendon Kay's play is worth keeping an eye on, as the fifth-year senior was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA but will be walking into an open race next year under new head coach Tommy Tuberville. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux and started the Bearcats' final four games, finishing the season with 966 passing yards, 230 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH: How does Cincinnati respond after the departure of head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee? Tuberville was hired immediately after from Texas Tech, but assistant Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach for this game. Stripling was Central Michigan's interim coach for its GMAC Bowl win in 2009 … again replacing Jones as head coach. The Bearcats are going for their fifth 10-win season in the past six years, an unprecedented stretch for this program.
WHY TO WATCH: Duke is playing in its first bowl game since the 1994 season and has not won a bowl game in 52 years, when it beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl after the 1960 season. Since that last win, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the Blue Devils have won 94 games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Duke is also looking to avoid its 18th straight losing season. This is also the first of two ACC/Big East bowl matchups, after the conferences split their eight regular-season meetings.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati 35, Duke 20. Despite the unpredictability factor with the Bearcats, they simply have too many threats that play right into what has doomed the Blue Devils so often during their four-game slide to end the regular season.