- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati's offense has raced up and down the field all season, often scoring at a breakneck pace. Only one opponent -- West Virginia -- held the Bearcats' up-tempo spread to fewer than 28 points this year.
But will that offense -- missing its mastermind, Brian Kelly -- succeed against Florida's defense? Cincinnati passing game coordinator Charley Molnar described the Gators D as the best in the nation, and the numbers suggest that's not far off. Florida ranked third in the FBS in scoring defense this season, allowing fewer than 12 points per game.
The Bearcats dominated the Big East as well as teams like Oregon State and Illinois. But this is an SEC defense loaded with athletes. It may not be a fair comparison, but the last time Florida played a team from Ohio in a BCS game, its speed was too much for Ohio State to handle.
"It's the Florida athlete vs. the Ohio athlete," Gators linebacker Ryan Stamper said.
Cincinnati understands the mammoth challenge awaiting Friday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
"This is the best defense I've seen on film since I've been here," Bearcats senior quarterback Tony Pike said. "The biggest thing about Florida is they have athletes and speed at every position. You play some teams where the D-line may be unbelievable, but you may get a break in the secondary and the linebackers. But from the D-line to the linebackers to the secondary, this is the best group I've seen."
Pike said he expects to see a lot of man coverage from Florida's secondary. The Gators are so strong up front that they don't have to blitz often to get pressure.
"I think they resemble Pitt's defensive line, just with their sheer size and speed," Cincinnati center Chris Jurek said. "Their overall team speed on defense can be overwhelming for some teams."
Jurek and the Bearcats' offensive line will be under serious pressure, but on the other hand, they allowed only 12 sacks this season. Pike operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun and delivers the ball quickly by design.
"It's going to be a great challenge for the whole offensive line," left tackle Jeff Linkenbach said. "But we put four [linemen] on the Big East first and second teams. So this will be a great place for us to showcase ourselves."
Few teams have been more efficient or explosive offensively this season than the Bearcats. They excel at creating seams and getting receivers in open space. Pike is very accurate, and the wideouts go get the ball.
That formula has worked to perfection all year. Now it's time to see whether it will work against one of the nation's best defenses.
"We'll spread 'em out and get 'em moving, because that's what we do," receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "I know they have great athletes all over the field on defense, but we have athletes all over the field on offense. It will be strength against strength."
14hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney