NCF Nation: Allstate Sugar Bowl 2009 bowls

[+] EnlargeJeff Quinn
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireCincinnati interim coach Jeff Quinn's loss to Florida dealt the Big East its biggest bowl defeat.

That's the sound of the Big East in bowl season. Sure, the league is 2-2 right now, but its New Year's Day performance is what people will remember.

Cincinnati came up small on the biggest stage, getting absolutely steamrolled by Florida in a 51-24 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss that wasn't even that close. The Big East needs all the high-profile wins it can get on the BCS stage and against the elite in the sport; the Bearcats' performance, coming in as a 12-0 back-to-back league champ, did great damage to the league's credibility.

West Virginia's performance was almost as bad. Yes, the Mountaineers were playing in a no-win situation in Bobby Bowden's last game, and quarterback Jarrett Brown didn't play the second half after hurting his ankle. The bottom line is still that the Big East's No. 2 team -- West Virginia finished 5-2 in the league and beat Pitt -- lost to a 6-6 team by two scores.

At least Pitt won a virtual road game against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and a UConn win Saturday over South Carolina would give the league an SEC scalp. But both those opponents are mediocre, middle-of-the pack teams. And South Florida's game against Northern Illinois won't matter to anybody unless the Bulls manage to lose.

The sky is not falling. Cincinnati will finish in the Top 10 and Pitt probably ends in the Top 15. West Virginia and Rutgers won nine games.

But you make your rep in the highest-profile games. And at the very top, the Big East bottomed out.
NEW ORLEANS -- That was a pretty impressive epilogue for the Florida football dynasty under Urban Meyer. Or was it just a middle chapter?

Hard to say, because no one knows exactly where we are in this story. We know that the Gators crushed Cincinnati 51-24 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to bid a fond farewell to Tim Tebow, the most accomplished senior class in school history and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

But what happens to the narrator?

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Tim Tebow and Steve Addazio
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's a time of transition for the Florida football program, with coach Urban Meyer taking a break, Tim Tebow taking his game to the NFL and assistant Steve Addazio assuming the title of interim coach.
Meyer himself offered only vague hints yet again about his future. The coach -- who resigned last Saturday before reinstating himself and taking an indefinite leave of absence the next morning -- didn't want to talk too much about his health or immediate plans, lest he overshadow his team's win.

When asked what the next few days would hold, Meyer said he didn't know.

"I know I'm anxious to get home," he said. "We'll address the future when it's the appropriate time."

Meyer said that his gut tells him he'll be back, but that he had to "make sure my family and health are number one." Tebow joked that Meyer had better be ready to lose to him in golf. And maybe some relaxing days would be the best possible thing, though the ever-looming signing day makes that unlikely.

"He definitely needs a break," linebacker Ryan Stamper said.

The question is, of course, whether that break lasts a month, a season or longer. How long will Steve Addazio have the interim coach title? That's what everyone will be dying to know from now until Meyer makes a decision. I asked running back Emmanuel Moody if there was anxiety on the team about the coach's choice.

"Oh yeah," he said, laughing. "From the fans, the players and the parents. But I have confidence in our athletic director if things shake out the way we don't want them to shake out. And I can speak for all the players by saying we would love to play for coach Addazio."

Florida has more to worry about than just losing Meyer. Tebow, the greatest Gator ever, leaves a huge void that sophomore John Brantley will somehow have to fill. Strong, the longtime defensive playcaller, is going to Louisville and is taking cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford with him. As many as eight juniors could jump to the NFL, including stalwarts like cornerback Joe Haden and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

So there is uncertainty awaiting the Gators back in Gainesville.

"It's going to be tough," said Stamper, a senior. "Next year might be a little shaky. But we're going to get the program back going.

"We'll never have a team like this again, with coach Strong gone and a lot of the top seniors gone. A lot of guys who pretty much made the program what it's been the last couple years are leaving. We're not starting from scratch really, but a lot of young guys have got to step in. It's similar to [after the] 2006 [BCS title]. We came back in '07 and lost a few games but then got it going again."

Questions about the future will be apparently be answered on Meyer's own personal timetable. We're all anxious to see what's on the next page.

Final: Florida 51, Cincinnati 24

January, 2, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Instant analysis from the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which Florida won 51-24 over Cincinnati.

Player of the game: There can be no doubt about this one. MVP Tim Tebow went out in style in his final college game, as the Florida quarterback passed for a career high 482 yards, completed 31 of his 35 passes and accounted for four touchdowns.

Stat of the game: Cincinnati had only 110 passing yards at the end of three quarters. This from one of the most prolific throwing and scoring teams in the nation all year. Florida's defense, however, was just too much for Tony Pike & Co. to overcome. This was a total domination, as the Gators led 37-3 early in the second half.

What it means: Cincinnati's 12-0 season now comes with a black mark at the end of it. The Bearcats were one second away from reaching the BCS title game but showed they were nowhere near worthy of being there. The Big East also suffered a credibility blow as well. Florida came out determined to make a statement and likely would have crushed most teams. But the Bearcats are the ones who incurred this embarrassment, and incoming coach Butch Jones knows he has some work to do, especially with the defense.

Record performance: Tebow set all kinds of Sugar Bowl records, including passing and total yards. His 533 total yards were also the most ever in a BCS game, surpassing Vince Young's spectacular 2006 Rose Bowl performance for Texas.

Unsung hero of the game: Tebow had the big numbers, but receiver Riley Cooper added seven catches for 181 yards, including an 80-yard score. The Gators receivers as a whole played as well as they have all season.

Tebow way too much for Bearcats

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati players talked all week about how much respect they had for Tim Tebow.

Wonder what they think of the Florida star now? Tebow is 28-of-31 for 436 yards and has four total touchdowns as the Gators lead 44-10. His 472 total yards is a BCS record, surpassing Vince Young's 2006 Rose Bowl haul.

Like Alabama, Cincinnati had hoped to make Tebow a pocket passer instead of letting the Florida run game beat them. Unlike Alabama, the Bearcats have had absolutely no way of stopping him.

More of the same at Sugar Bowl

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Any thoughts that Cincinnati would make major adjustments and somehow climb back in the Allstate Sugar Bowl were quickly extinguished.

Florida got a big kick return and scored again on a fourth down option pitch from Tim Tebow to Emmanuel Moody to go up 37-3.

It's just about pride now for Cincinnati. Can the Bearcats at least make this score somewhat respectable?
NEW ORLEANS -- Halftime analysis from the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where Florida leads Cincinnati 30-3:

Player of the half: Tim Tebow. Perhaps you've heard of him. The Florida star is adding to his legend in his final college game with a nearly flawless first half. Tebow completed his first 12 passes and 17 of his first 18. He finished 20-of-23 for 320 yards and three scores -- and again, that's in the first half.

Stat of the half: Cincinnati has 55 total yards to 383 for Florida.

Turning point: When this matchup was announced. Seriously, it's been completely one-sided, and Cincinnati does not appear to belong on the same field with the bigger, faster and crisper Gators.

Unsung hero: The Florida secondary has been great at keeping Cincinnati's receivers bottled up. Mardy Gilyard has only four catches for 20 yards. There just aren't openings down the field, even when the Gators bring pressure.

What Cincinnati needs to do: They need to mix some things up. Why not give Zach Collaros a shot and see if he provides a spark at quarterback? But defensively, I'm not sure what the answer is. Tebow is picking the defense apart. Interim coach Jeff Quinn needs a miracle.

Record performance: Tebow's 12 straight completions to start the game set a new Sugar Bowl record.

Bearcats get some points but ...

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- At least Cincinnati won't get shut out.

Jake Rogers' 47-yard field goal with 3:11 left made it 23-3, Florida. That was the end of the Bearcats' most promising drive since the opening possession, but it still didn't result in a red-zone trip.

And then Florida immediately responded with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Riley Cooper on the next play from scrimmage. It's 30-3, and somebody might need to call this fight.

The "SEC! SEC!" chants are getting louder and louder, and Cincinnati fans have no response.

Rough New Year's Day for the Big East.
NEW ORLEANS -- So far, this is men against boys.

Cincinnati just hasn't been in Florida's league through a quarter and a half. The Bearcats offense has 11 total yards, and that Gators' pass rush is getting to Tony Pike just by bringing the front four. Having Carlos Dunlap back has been a big boost for the Gators.

It's "only" 16-0 but it's been a clear domination. Cincinnati needs something good to happen right away or it could get run out of the building like Hawaii did against Georgia here. And given how great the Bearcats' season was, that would be a shame.

Awful first quarter for Cincinnati

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- That was about the worst possible first quarter for Cincinnati.

Tim Tebow is 10-for-10 and the Bearcats offense is 0-for-3 on drives. Florida's 9-0 lead seems larger than it is. Cincinnati has yet to adjust to the Gators' defensive speed and may not be able to. Meanwhile, Florida is too big and Tebow has been too good for the Bearcats defense to handle.

This is a big test for interim coach Jeff Quinn. He and his staff have to come up with some adjustments and fast, or they could get blown out.

Yes, things looked really bad early on in the Pitt game, too. But Florida is better than Pitt and is playing with a ton of confidence right now.

Cincinnati offense not delivering

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati's only chance in this game is probably to score a lot of points.

But after two possessions, the Bearcats' high-powered offense has been shut out. They've had some success with short passes over the middle, but the running game has been non-existent (and harmful, since it's led to two holding plays), and Florida's secondary is covering the deep ball well.

Interim coach Jeff Quinn emptied the playbook with a throwback pass from Isaiah Pead to Tony Pike, who then tried to hit Ben Guidugli on a deep pass. But Gators star corner Joe Haden recovered to knock it away. Pike also had Armon Binns open, but he's probably not used to seeing corners recover as quickly as Haden did.

Gators plow through Cincinnati 'D'

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati's defense, which was so leaky in the last month of the regular season, apparently hasn't gotten any better.

Florida marched down the field on a 13-play, 84-yard drive to take a 6-0 lead (Walter Stewart blocked the extra point). The Gators are more physical than the Bearcats and any question of whether they'd come ready to play has been answered.

Tim Tebow got it done with his arms and legs that drive. The Bearcats had Florida in a couple of third-and-longs, but Tebow found receivers for the first down. He was 7-for-7 on the drive. If Tebow can stand in the pocket and deliver completions like that, Cincinnati is going to have a long, long night defensively.

One of Florida's best offensive players, though, is probably done for the game. Running back Jeff Demps injured his left forearm near the goal line and was taken to the locker room.
NEW ORLEANS -- Florida center Maurkice Pouncey is a tough guy.

Team officials say Pouncey spent five-plus hours at Tulane Hospital today with kidney stones. Remarkably, after four bags of IVs, he is still starting for the Gators.

Obviously, keep an eye on how effective he will be.

Allstate Sugar Bowl warm-ups

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- The teams have completed their pregame warm-ups, including Tim Tebow for the last time as a collegian (try to hold back those tears).

There do not appear to be any significant injuries for either side. Urban Meyer is not in a hospital gurney. So we should be all set to go.

Cincinnati will wear all white uniforms, including white helmets, for the first time since the 1966 season.

Mardy Gilyard looks ready. Early in warm-ups, the Cincinnati receiver went over to the sidelines where the Bearcats fans were and tried to pump them up. They chanted, "Mardy! Mardy!"
NEW ORLEANS -- Greetings from the Superdome, where we're about 90 minutes from kickoff of the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The game won't be a sellout, with a couple of thousand tickets unsold. Blame the lukewarm response for that. Cincinnati has shown up in force. Walking around the French Quarter last night (strictly for research purposes, of course), I saw tons of Bearcats fans and maybe a quarter as many Gator fans. And the Cincinnati boosters were a lot more excited, for the most part.

None of that will matter much in the game. The Bearcats remain a substantial underdog and will need to execute almost flawlessly for interim coach Jeff Quinn, who will call plays for the first time since the 2006 Motor City Bowl. Look for Quinn, who was the team's offensive line coach, to use the running game a bit more than former coach Brian Kelly would. Cincinnati needs to keep Florida's defense off balance, and sophomore tailback Isaiah Pead has the size and skill to do some good things.

Players are slowly filtering onto the field for the first time. We'll be back with much more to come ...
NEW ORLEANS -- Three keys for a Cincinnati victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Florida:

1. Contain Tim Tebow: Well, sure, that sounds painfully obvious. Tebow is Florida's leader and most important player. Of course Cincinnati will focus on trying to stop him.

But Tebow will have the ball in his hands every play and will make things happen. What the Bearcats need to do is keep him in the pocket instead of letting him run wild up the middle and on the perimeter, which then opens up the Gators' option game. The thought of Tebow plowing through the smallish Cincinnati defensive line must make interim coach Jeff Quinn restless at night. He would much rather see Tebow throw the ball, where the former Heisman Trophy winner sometimes struggles with his accuracy.

"If you take him out of the game, Florida is just a normal team," Cincinnati defensive lineman Alex Daniels said. "He's going to do something because he's a special guy. But you can't let him do too much."

2. Get separation: Cincinnati's receivers always seem to be open. That's because the Bearcats run multiple wide sets with a complex deep passing tree. Someone inevitably pops free long or underneath.

Those openings won't be so spacious against Florida. Gators cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins form one of the top combos anywhere and will be the best that Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and the Bearcats' pass-catchers have seen this year. Safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright are NFL prospects as well. And the mismatches that Cincinnati so often exploits against linebackers won't be as pronounced since Florida's entire defense runs so well.

Gilyard & Co. will have to run precise routes, and quarterback Tony Pike will have to fit the ball into small windows. And he'll need to do it quickly to avoid the Florida pass-rush onslaught.

3. Be perfect: Let's face it: Beating Florida is a tall order for anybody. Urban Meyer runs an NFL factory in Gainesville. Perhaps the Gators won't bring their best effort because they see this as a consolation game, or maybe they're worried about their coach's health. But Cincinnati can't count on that, and it will need something better than its A-game.

"We'll have to play our Triple A-game to be in a position to win," Quinn said.

The Bearcats operated at peak efficiency nearly all year, not even losing a fumble until Game 10. They got a little sloppier late, including Pike's three interceptions at Pitt and poor defense the final month. They can't make turnovers against the Gators -- Pike surely can't repeat his four-pick night from last year's Orange Bowl -- and hope to win. The defense can't miss tackles or bust assignments. Special teams must be mistake-free and could use some big returns from Gilyard.

That's a lot to ask after a three-week layoff and without their head coach. But that's likely what it will take to beat Florida.