ACC: Cincinnati Bearcats

The Belk Bowl unfolded quickly as North Carolina jumped out to an early lead over Cincinnati and never looked back Saturday, running away with a 39-17 win. Here's how it all happened:

It was over when: Can a game be over almost as soon as it begins? North Carolina started off as strong as conceivably possible, scoring the game's first touchdown on a 2-yard run from Romar Morris with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first quarter. Just three minutes later, the Tar Heels delivered what proved to be a debilitating series of jabs as Kareem Martin got the sack-safety and T.J. Logan followed that up by taking the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a score, resulting in a 9-point swing. Cincinnati showed some life in the second half, but the 16-point deficit was ultimately too much to overcome.

Game ball goes to: Even without Blake Anderson calling plays, North Carolina didn't miss a beat. Marquise Williams executed the offense in perfect tandem with head coach Larry Fedora, who subbed in while his former offensive coordinator was off starting his own head-coaching career at Arkansas State. Williams, a talented sophomore, spread the ball around in the air, completing passes to seven different receivers while rushing for 46 yards. He finished the game with 171 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on 19-of-33 passing.

Unsung hero: Make no mistake, North Carolina won the Belk Bowl in the trenches. A tip of the cap should go to both the offensive and defensive lines. The Tar Heels wouldn't have jumped out to such a big lead without the defense providing four sacks and three three-and-outs in the first half. Cincinnati's line entered the game having allowed 12 sacks all season, but UNC wound up with five on the day. UNC's offensive line, meanwhile, allowed for a balanced offensive attack, with 171 yards through the air and 174 yards on the ground.

Stat of the game: North Carolina got the monkey off its back by finally not rejecting some good old-fashioned home cooking. The Tar Heels won a bowl game in their home state for the first time after losing the three previous bowl games they played in Charlotte. Ryan Switzer, meanwhile, managed to tie an NCAA record by returning his fifth punt for a touchdown this season. Where many would have called for a fair catch in the third quarter against the Bearcats, Switzer hung in, caught the ball with a number of defenders in the vicinity and weaved upfield 85 yards for the score.

What North Carolina learned: Fedora taught his Tar Heels that it's not how you start but how you finish. Ending the season with six wins in seven games was impressive. Getting above .500 after starting off the year 1-5 was incredible. The hope for North Carolina is that the momentum coming out of the Belk Bowl will carry over into next season and such a furious surge won't be necessary to reach the postseason again. With Williams, freshman tailback Logan, freshman receiver Switzer and sophomore receivers T.J. Thorpe and Quinshad Davis all returning to Chapel Hill, the future is bright.

What Cincinnati learned: The Bearcats, on the other hand, end the season on a sour note. The momentum of winning six straight games late in the year was almost entirely wiped out after losing in overtime against Louisville on Dec. 5 and then getting blown out by North Carolina on Saturday. Next season will be tough for head coach Tommy Tuberville, as he will be without senior quarterback Brendon Kay and the quarterback of the defense in senior linebacker Greg Blair. But with the much-traveled redshirt freshman transfer quarterback Gunner Kiel entering the fold, there's reason for optimism. The former No. 3-ranked quarterback in the 2012 class has all the tools to do well in the Bearcats' spread offense.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Belk Bowl, click here.

Belk Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Duke Blue Devils (6-6)

Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET, Charlotte, N.C. (ESPN)

Cincinnati take by Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Per the usual rite of the preseason, Cincinnati was not picked to win the Big East.

Per the usual rite of the season, Cincinnati won a share of the Big East.

The Bearcats, it seems, exceed expectations every season. But this one may have been Butch Jones’ best coaching job at Cincinnati when you consider just how much talent he lost off a 10-win team that finished 2011 in the Top 25. Jones had to replace his starting quarterback, running back, half his starting offensive line, his starting defensive tackles and his starting middle linebacker. Just to name a few.

Without them, he was left 65 first- and second-year players to try and carry on the tradition that has been established. They were able to do that, despite losing their team leader in defensive end Walter Stewart (back) and switching quarterbacks for the final month of the season.

Brendon Kay delivered wins in three of the final four games of the season after replacing Munchie Legaux, but the true story centered around the running game. George Winn emerged as one of the biggest surprises in the Big East, rushing for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He averaged more yards per game (100.3) than Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead did a year ago, and was a big reason why the Bearcats ran for nearly 200 yards per game. Travis Kelce was a huge surprise at tight end, too, leading the team in receiving yards (599) and touchdown receptions (7).

Defensively, Cincinnati played extremely well despite losing JK Schaeffer, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes and Stewart. Greg Blair was a huge presence in the middle, and finished second in the Big East in tackles (123). All of these standout performances added up to yet another Big East title, and a shot at a 10-win season for the fifth time in six years.

Duke take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Blue Devils finally got over the hump in the fifth season under coach David Cutcliffe, who was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year after leading the program to its first bowl game since 1994.

For the first time in decades, Duke football was relevant in November, as the program had a legitimate chance to win the Coastal Division. Despite the achievement of reaching the six-win mark, most within the program would concede they let an even bigger opportunity slip away.

With a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina on Oct. 20, Duke became the first team in the Coastal Division to become bowl eligible this year. Problem was, the Blue Devils didn’t do a thing in the win column in the following weeks. After beating UNC, Duke ended the season with four straight losses, dropping out of the ACC race for good with a 42-24 loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 17. Duke had the misfortune of an unforgiving cross-over schedule that included back-to-back games against Atlantic Division leaders No. 12 Florida State and No. 13 Clemson. The Blue Devils were humbled in those games and outscored 104-27. They still had a chance to win the division, but the defense had no answer for Georgia Tech’s spread option offense.

Still, it was a milestone season for Duke that included receiver Conner Vernon asserting himself as the ACC’s all-time leader in career receiving yards. The Blue Devils are ecstatic to be playing in any bowl, but to have the opportunity to stay in-state and continue practicing will be the biggest rewards. Duke is making its ninth bowl trip and has a 3-5 record in postseason games. The Blue Devils’ last bowl trip was a 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl Game in Tampa, Fla. The game marks the first appearance by the Blue Devils in a bowl game in North Carolina.

Video: ACC brass set to vote on expansion

November, 28, 2012

Andy Katz discusses a report that ACC officials will vote Wednesday on expansion candidates.

Video: NC State-Cincinnati preview

September, 21, 2011

Heather Dinich talks about the key matchup in the Thursday night game between NC State and Cincinnati.

Virginia Tech and Cincinnati to meet in 2012

November, 16, 2009
Virginia Tech and Cincinnati have agreed to play at FedEx Field in 2012, according to a recent announcement by the Washington Redskins.

Information on tickets sales and kickoff time will be released at a later date.

This game is another example of the Hokies' fearlessness when it comes to scheduling, though Cincinnati will be lucky if Brian Kelly is still the Bearcats' coach in 2012. They have won 16 of their last 17 games with the lone loss being to Virginia Tech in last season's FedEx Orange Bowl. With the Bearcats undefeated at 10-0 and No. 5 in the BCS standings, Kelly is a hot commodity these days.

This will essentially be another home game in the D.C. area for the Hokies, as FedEx Field is a reasonable drive for fans. Virginia Tech also has an upcoming matchup with Boise State in 2010. The game was originally scheduled to be Cincinnati's home game, so the Bearcats will be the host team for this game.

Cincinnati played at Lane Stadium in 2006 and was scheduled to host the Hokies to open this season. That game was moved to 2012 in order for the Hokies to play the University of Alabama in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff.

Tech leads the series 5-4 after beating UC 20-7 in last season's FedEx Orange Bowl.

FedEx Field will also host Indiana-Penn State in 2010 and the 112th Army-Navy Game in 2011.

Virginia Tech ushering in new talent at linebacker

June, 29, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It wasn't until his junior and senior year in high school that Virginia Tech linebacker Jake Johnson started paying close attention to college football and became aware of the Hokies' nationally known tradition of dominant defenses.

Now, as a sophomore with the opportunity to start for Virginia Tech this fall, Johnson is working to uphold that standard and he's been in the film room watching the players he wants to emulate -- former Hokies like Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi.

"There have been so many great linebackers here," Johnson said. "All Americans, all-ACC. The reputation of our linebackers here is great, and I want to be the next great one. I don't want to be the year where we're just OK."

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster certainly hasn't settled for 'just OK' defenses in the past, and knows his players will have to do their part if the Hokies are going to contend for the national title. Virginia Tech has some reloading to do, though, in its linebacking corps after the departures of Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant -- the team's top two leading tacklers from 2008. Johnson and redshirt sophomore Barquell Rivers are the frontrunners to take over, but right now their potential far outweighs their experience.

"I think we look good, though," said Cody Grimm, who returns as the leading tackler with 71, and had 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and 14 tackles for losses last year. "Barquell, obviously he played in the bowl game and he's a real strong kid. He's a good player, sure tackler, and then Jake Johnson has been doing a really good job as well. He's still young. He picked up a bunch of stuff in the spring. Once he started knowing it, he got a lot better. Both of them are really fast and strong."

How fast? Grimm said Rivers and Johnson ran around a 4.62 in their last 40-yard dash times. Rivers, who had been in on just 28 defensive plays before earning his first career start in the Orange Bowl at the expense of the injured Warren, is now the leading candidate to take over at Mike linebacker. Rivers made a name for himself in the bowl game when he stopped Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line and ended the Bearcats last chance at a comeback.

"Barquell, he knows everything right now," Johnson said. "He's like a coach out there."

That's exactly what Johnson said he wants to be by the time the Alabama game rolls around. Johnson said he is studying not only his position, but also what the defensive linemen and other linebackers are doing. He's gotten a lot of help from the two veteran linebackers, Grimm and Cam Martin, both fifth-year seniors who combined to play all but nine plays at the position. Their rotating schedule should stay the same, as long as Martin heals properly from knee surgery he had after the Orange Bowl.

"I just try to lead by example," Grimm said. "Take care of my job, and if something were to happen, like if Barquell has a bad play try to get him up, but he's a pretty calm player. He was calm in the bowl game. He knows what he's doing. He'll get all the first team reps. Coach Foster will definitely have him and Jake ready to go."

More movement at Virginia

February, 19, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Today is Bob Diaco's 36th birthday, and he's celebrating it with a new job. 

The former Virginia defensive coordinator has officially been hired at Cincinnati for the same job, and the Roanoke Times is reporting Ron Prince will return to Virginia, most likely as associate head coach and special teams coach.

Diaco spent the 2005 season on Brian Kelly's staff at Central Michigan where he served as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, so it's not a completely random move.

However ...

At 36 years old, when you're trying to move up in the grand hierarchy of college football, the title of defensive coordinator at Virginia is more prestigious than the same title at Cincinnati, regardless of the recent success Kelly has had there. (And that's with all due respect to Kelly, a smart, young coach who is going to quickly ascend the college football ranks).

The problem is, at Virginia, it's just a title. It's no secret coach Al Groh is the man behind the defense. And everything else in Charlottesville. Without having spoken to Diaco, it's the one explanation for this move that's hard to ignore. Nobody questions Groh's work ethic, his desire to win or his passion for the game. But his reputation as a micromanager has followed him throughout his career.

Roanoke Times reporter Doug Doughty ran into Diaco after a hoops game recently and tried to ask him about the Cincinnati job, but Virginia assistants aren't allowed to talk to the media. It's what Groh calls his "one voice" policy -- his voice.

"To me, Al Groh is the voice for Virginia football," Diaco told Doughty. "I'll have to take my directive from coach Groh."

Anyone who doesn't is free to hand in their resume.

Cincinnati's Kelly not interested in BC

January, 8, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Well, I don't know how seriously BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo would have considered Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, but you can scratch him off of my list. Not because he's not a good candidate, but because Kelly is close to finalizing a new contract and because, well, he doesn't want the BC job.

Here's what Kelly had to say about it:

"I grew up there and watched BC," he said. "We've got a great deal of respect for their program, but that's not a job I would be interested in. At the end of the day, I've got a better situation here at the University of Cincinnati."

BC looking for long-term answer at short-term destination

January, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Five years.

That's how long former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski was expected to stay at Boston College before he was "terminated without cause" on Wednesday.

Instead, Jagodzinski lasted two years before he started job hunting (and therein lies your "cause.")

"I thought that we had a coach that wanted to be here for a long time," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said at this afternoon's news conference, "and that wasn't necessarily the case."

It's not necessarily going to be the case at Boston College, either.

DeFilippo is under the illusion that BC football is more relevant than its surroundings, when in actuality the program is like the fourth-string quarterback (at best) in a pro town. BC only steals the spotlight when everyone else isn't playing. It's overshadowed by the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Bruins, the Celtics, and, on occasion, even by its own hockey team.

Chestnut Hill is not Happy Valley, where Beaver Stadium looms larger than anything in the zip code, or Blacksburg, where cell reception begins to disappear in the Blue Hills, and a new hotel is reason to celebrate. Maryland coaches often lament their battle for attention between the Ravens and the Redskins, but Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams are both alums who are attached to their programs. Georgia Tech has the Falcons and the Braves, but they've also got Paul Johnson, and they ponied up the money to keep him -- not fire him.

Head football coach at Boston College is a good, respectable job at a fine educational institution, but it's a tough job because it's based in a high-priced town with little fan support. We're talking about a program that couldn't even sell out its own stadium when Matt Ryan was quarterback. Its location makes it the misfit of the ACC. There's no need for blame, just acceptance.

Unless DeFilippo finds a coach with roots in the area or already settled in it, odds are it won't be his final stop. Nor should it be, and there should be no shame in DeFilippo hiring talented, young coaches good enough to move on to more lucrative jobs, whether it be in the NFL or in college.

One coach who would make perfect sense for this job is Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. He's talented, he's from Boston, his parents and most of his family still live there, and -- bonus -- he's Catholic. But guess what? If Charlie Weis were to be fired at Notre Dame, DeFilippo would likely be searching all over again. Notre Dame is one of Kelly's dream jobs.

Still, DeFilippo insists the program can attract some of the best college coaches in the country and keep them.

"I've got a stack out there of coaches, some are from head coaches at very, very, very good institutions that are interested in this job should anything happen, and I think they would be committed to staying here for the length of their contract, yes."

"There are a lot of positive things here, and there's a lot of coaches that want to come here and be a part of this program."

Sure, but for how long?

"We want to find somebody who really wants to be at Boston College and who is going to be here for the length of their contract. ... We'd like a coach that would stay the length of the contract. That's what I'd like."

DeFilippo said he will bring the staff together and give anyone interested in the job the first opportunity to interview. He also said he plans on bringing in at least two candidates from outside the program. The answer, though, is right in front of him.

DeFilippo needs to finally reward the loyal coach who's been on staff for the past 12 seasons -- defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, a Penn State grad who has been the Eagles' defensive coordinator for the past 10 seasons.

Of course, if Penn State came calling for "Spaz" ...

Hey, everybody's got a dream job, and for most coaches, Boston College isn't it.

FedEx Orange Bowl preview

January, 1, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

WHO TO WATCH: Tailback Darren Evans. He has already set a school rushing record for a freshman with 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns -- including at least one in each of the first six games. He'll face the No. 2 rushing defense in the Big East, as Cincinnati is holding opponents to 104 yards per game. Evans leads the team with 85.5 yards per game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech's passing defense against Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. The Hokies have won games with their defense all season, and that's how they'll have to do it again -- with cornerback Macho Harris leading the way. Pike ranks 29th in the nation in passing efficiency with a 141.07 rating. Pike has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

WHY TO WATCH: The Hokies are representing the ACC on the big stage for the second straight year and have an opportunity to stop the league's eight-game losing streak in BCS bowls.

What to watch on New Year's Day

December, 31, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC's New Year's Day bowls:

1. The Replacements. Junior Nekos Brown will fill in for defensive end Jason Worilds, redshirt freshman Barquell Rivers replaces linebacker Brett Warren, and Jaymes Brooks, who has played four career snaps, will fill in for starting right guard Nick Marshman, who is academically ineligible.

2. Clemson's secondary vs. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz. Michael Hamlin and the rest of the Tigers' secondary will be without former assistant coach Vic Koenning for the first time, and how they respond will be important. Ganz is 13th nationally in total offense with 299 yards per game and 14th nationally in passing efficiency, but the Tigers are ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 100.03 rating.

3. Brian Kelly vs. Frank Beamer. This is a matchup between a veteran and a talented up-and-coming coach. Kelly is 22-5 in his second season at Cincinnati and has the Bearcats in their first BCS game. Beamer is 176-89-2 in his 22nd season at Virginia Tech, but is 0-2 in the Orange Bowl.

4. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has rushed for 100 yards or more three times this season, and will need his feet to escape a Cincinnati defense that thrives on pressuring quarterbacks.

5. Clemson's record-breakers. Running back James Davis needs just 112 rushing yards on Thursday (his birthday) to become Clemson's all-time leading rusher. He already has 49 career touchdowns, also second in school history and just one short of Travis Zachery's record. Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly needs just 23 receiving yards to become the school's career leader and he already has the ACC career record for touchdowns.

6. Virginia Tech's field position. In close games, field position is critical, and Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber gives the Bearcats the edge. Cincinnati is No. 1 in the country in net punting with 41.51 yards per game. Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation.

7. Clemson's new and improved offensive line. This had been the root of the Tigers' problems for three quarters of the regular season, but now that they're healthy and have found the right combination, it has freed the top playmakers to make plays. Clemson is 4-0 when it starts an offensive line composed of Thomas Austin and Mason Cloy at guard, Landon Walker and Chris Hairston at tackle, and Bobby Hutchinson at center. That is slated to be Clemson's starting lineup on the of¬fensive line in the Gator Bowl.

ACC to break even in bowl games?

December, 22, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

According to Stewart Mandel's bowl predictions on, the ACC will go 5-5 this postseason, including a Virginia Tech loss to Cincinnati. Regis Philbin, though, has the ACC at 7-3 with a win over Cincinnati. The outsiders' view on the league obviously depends upon who you ask.

The next round of ACC predictions here will come on Christmas Eve, but I'd say the guy who covers college football for a living is pretty close.

What would a 5-5 bowl record -- including a loss in the Orange Bowl -- mean to the conference?


The respect-o-meter would barely waver. It's an average finish. The real question is just how meaningful a win over Cincinnati would really be to the conference, and unfortunately, it's not exactly the heralded opponent the league needs to get a legitimate boost.

Still, if the ACC can pull off a winning bowl record this season, capped by a convincing win over Cincinnati, the conference would certainly deserve some respect.

Non-official, official ACC/Big East blogger challenge, Part II

December, 22, 2008
Posted by's Heather Dinich

Ah, the holidays. Time for giving, sharing and arguing with your colleagues. Those of you who have been with us since the beginning might remember the first non-official, official blogger ACC/Big East challenge. Some of you liked it, some of you didn't. Regardless, Big East blogger Brian Bennett and I kept ourselves amused and did it again.


Here is Part II of the non-official, official challenge:

Brian Bennett: All right, Heather. Back in September we had some fun debating whether the ACC or the Big East was the worst BCS league. I guess you won that one since the ACC has got like 32 bowl teams, though none of them are ranked higher than Cincinnati. But we've got another round coming in bowl season, when the ACC and Big East meet in three different games. Who's sitting prettier (or less ugly) when the dust clears Jan. 2?

Heather Dinich: Well, the ACC was 2-2 against the Big East during the regular season, and since 2001, the Big East has a better bowl record than the ACC. You guys are 20-14 since then, and the ACC is 27-22. I think that trend will start to tip, though, with the ACC coming out on top this bowl season, 2-1. Sorry, but I'm taking Russell Wilson over Mike Teel, and as for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, they may as well move the game to Chapel Hill ...

BB: I'll agree with you on the Meineke Car Care Bowl, because North Carolina absolutely smoked Rutgers and UConn this year. But I strongly disagree on the Bowl. Rutgers has been playing lights-out for the past month or so, and unless they're bummed about being in Birmingham, the Scarlet Knights are going to pound NC State like South Florida did earlier this year.

But, really, only one game matters, and that's champs vs. champs. I see by your projected record you're already conceding that Virginia Tech will lose to Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl. Is that because the ACC hasn't won a BCS game since people were worried about the Y2K problem? And doesn't your league need to win one of these someday to have any credibility?

HD: Strongly disagree? As in, strenuously object? Look, in case you haven't noticed, NC State has kind of been on a hot streak. And the Pack had a better team in their training room for that South Florida game. They were missing their top two playmakers on offense AND defense. The bloggers could've pounded NC State in that game (with me at quarterback, though, not you).

You're right though, only one counts, and the ACC is desperate to win it. Frank Beamer is desperate to win it. The conference is on an eight-game losing streak in its BCS games. Based on experience, I give the coaching edge to Beamer and his staff, but I think Cincinnati's rushing defense will be too good for the Hokies. I'm not sure how they've fared against mobile quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor, though. And as for having some credibility, talk to me about that after your Big East champs make more than one BCS appearance.

BB: Mobile quarterbacks? Cincinnati had no problems against Pat White and Matt Grothe. Tyrod Taylor is no Pat White.

Yes, it's true that the Bearcats are brand new at this. But winning BCS games is old hat for the Big East. This will be four straight wins, which I'd take over 0-for-9 any day. And Cincinnati should be a top 10 team at the end of the season, which leads to my final question: Is it better for a league to have one highly-ranked team or a bunch of mediocre ones in the 15-to-30 range like the ACC has?

HD: Ouch! Man, you're harsh. But the truth hurts. The ACC needs a dominant team pushing for a final top 10 ranking, otherwise four- and five-loss teams are going to be the league's highlight of the bowl season. It doesn't matter if the entire conference is bowl eligible every year if they're not winning the big games against the best competition. Does Cincinnati legitimately fall into that category? I mean, exactly how good of a win would that really be for the Hokies?

I'll give you the last word.

BB: You're too kind. This is all in good fun of course. And I never even got around to my ACC title game jokes. (If they play a championship game and no one is there to see it, does it really exist?) Luckily, unlike a lot of things in college football, we'll get to settle at least part of this debate on the field. And then one of us will have the upper hand when we start arguing again next fall.

Breaking down the FedEx Orange Bowl

December, 18, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

This should be another good, close game, and one that's tough to predict. Here are three reasons why Virginia Tech will beat Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl, and three reasons why they won't:


1. Coaching. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has done a remarkable job in just his second season with the Bearcats, as he is 22-5 and Cincy is this year's Big East champion. But this is also the program's first appearance in a BCS bowl, while the Hokies were here last season. Kelly won two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State, but Beamer is a veteran determined not to lose this game a third time.

2. Turnovers. The Hokies have a knack for taking it away, while Cincinnati tends to give it away. The Bearcats have gained 21 and lost 26. Cincinnati is 83rd in the nation in turnover margin, and Virginia Tech is 18th. The Hokies have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season.

3. Defense. The Hokies' passing defense is holding opponents to 170 yards per game, and that will be critical against quarterback Tony Pike. Victor "Macho" Harris is tied for fifth in the nation with six interceptions this year, and he's scored twice off of them. Defense has won games for this team all season, and will have to do it again.


1. Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. He ranks 29th in the nation in passing efficiency with a 141.07 rating. He took over the spread offense when Dustin Grutza was injured, and has gotten comfortable throwing to Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman. The Bearcats don't run a lot, but they don't have to with Pike's short, effective throws.

2. Special teams. Cincinnati leads the nation in net punting, and punter Kevin Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation. He has had 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. Cincinnati also leads the Big East in kickoff returns. It's a slight edge for the Bearcats, as Virginia Tech has one of the ACC's best placekickers in Dustin Keys, and Harris has the ability to score on a return.

3. Virginia Tech's inconsistent offensive line. Cincinnati has the No. 2 rushing defense in the Big East and No. 13 in the country. The Bearcats are first in the Big East and ninth in the nation with 2.85 sacks per game, and the Hokies rank 111th in sacks allowed. They're going to force the Hokies to throw it, and while Virginia Tech's passing game has shown some improvement, it's not their strength.