NCF Nation: Travis Kelce

It is no secret that Cincinnati has gotten inconsistent play out of its receivers the past two seasons, and it's one huge area that has to be addressed going into 2013.

[+] EnlargeAnthony McClung
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWR Anthony McClung was one of the key players in the Bearcats' win against Duke in the Belk Bowl.
Perhaps a guy like Anthony McClung is ready for a featured role.

McClung has been reliable, if unspectacular, during his Bearcats career. But he certainly caught the attention of new coach Tommy Tuberville during the Belk Bowl against Duke. McClung had three catches for 110 yards and a touchdown -- just the second 100-yard game of his career.

Now, he has seemingly picked up where he left off this spring. In the first major scrimmage the team had, McClung was one of the biggest stars, with four receptions for 151 yards and three touchdowns. On his 73-yard scoring catch from Munchie Legaux, McClung faked out two defenders and sprinted into the end zone. In a second, smaller scrimmage, McClung had three catches for 28 yards.

With the Bearcats taking the week off for spring break, it is probably safe to say McClung has been one of the early standouts during practice. He certainly has ample opportunity to prove himself, with Alex Chisum banged up and incoming junior college transfer Johnny Holton set to come in this summer.

McClung is going into his senior year, and has a new coaching staff. Those could be providing him some big-time sources of motivation. Another source of motivation should be the top of the depth chart. Only three receivers caught more than 20 passes last season -- Kenbrell Thompkins (34), McClung (34) and Damon Julian (24). Only McClung returns. Tight end Travis Kelce -- who led the team in receptions and receiving yards -- also is gone.

There clearly is a huge opening for McClung to capture for himself. So far this spring, it appears as if he is rising up to the challenge.

Big East at the combine

February, 26, 2013
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Twenty-four former Big East players and several more stars from future conference teams have been in Indianapolis the past week showing off in front of their prospective future employers. With the NFL scouting combine wrapping up today with defensive backs working out, we'll take a look at how some of the Big East's stars fared.

Big East all-bowl team

January, 10, 2013
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It's time to unveil the Big East all-bowl team, honoring those players who had the best performances in the postseason.

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. What more can I say about Bridgewater, who began his 2013 Heisman campaign with a big game against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl? Bridgewater went 20-of-32 for two touchdowns in the decisive 33-23 win.

RB: Prince-Tyson Gulley, Syracuse. Gulley was a running machine, busting free for a career-high 213 yards and three total touchdowns in a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati. Winn capped a great senior season, running for 130 yards and a touchdown in a 48-34 win over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse. There is a reason Pugh has declared early for the NFL draft. He showed why he is one of the best tackles in the country in the win over West Virginia, helping pave the way for 369 yards rushing and protecting Ryan Nassib well.

OT: Alex Kupper, Louisville. Those who have followed the Cardinals believe Kupper had one of the best performances of his career in the win over the Gators. For the first time in a four-game stretch, Louisville was able to get its run game going.

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville. Benavides has been the best center in the Big East for several years, and he played well in the final game of his career.

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati. Bujnoch played with a foot injury after missing most of the bowl practices and had another great game as the Bearcats ran for 222 yards.

OG: Zack Chibane, Syracuse. Chibane teamed with Pugh on the left side to open huge holes all day.

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati. Kelce capped his monster season with a monster game, catching five passes for a career-high 123 yards -- including the 83-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 44 seconds left.

WR: Anthony McClung, Cincinnati. McClung had three catches for 110 yards and a 25-yard touchdown against Duke in the Belk Bowl in one of the best performances of his career.

WR: Devin Street, Pitt. The Panthers had a dreadful day on offense, but Street was a bright spot with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

DEFENSE

DL: Marcus Smith, Louisville. Smith came through in a big way on the line in a dominating performance against Florida. His name does not show up often on the stat sheet, but he made his presence felt.

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse. Sharpe was a big reason why Geno Smith was flustered all day long. Sharpe finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on the day.

DL: Jamil Merrell, Rutgers. Merrell had a huge game in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech, notching a career-high two sacks in the game as the Scarlet Knights held the Hokies to 196 yards of total offense.

LB: Siriki Diabate, Syracuse. Diabate led the way with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and half a sack, and he contributed to a safety early in the win over the Mountaineers.

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati. Blair set a Cincinnati bowl record with a game-high 15 tackles. He forced and recovered a fumble early that changed the momentum against the Blue Devils.

LB: Preston Brown, Louisville. Brown finished with 13 tackles -- 1.5 for loss -- and one pass breakup in the win over the Gators.

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Greene was a stalwart once again, finishing the loss to Virginia Tech with 11 tackles, half a sack and one forced fumble he recovered in the end zone -- the only Rutgers touchdown of the game.

CB: Terell Floyd, Louisville. Floyd's 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening play of the game set the tone for the Cardinals. It was Louisville's first defensive score of the season.

CB: Brandon Jones, Rutgers. Jones set a career high and Rutgers single-game bowl record with two interceptions against the Hokies.

S: Jason Hendricks, Pitt. Hendricks had a great game in a loss to the Rebels, with a whopping 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville. Pryor had six tackles and registered his fifth forced fumble on the season when he recorded his first sack of the season in the third quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Matt Yoklic, Pitt. Yoklic had plenty of opportunities to punt in this game and made the most of them, leading all Big East postseason punters with a 48.3-yard average on six punts.

K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati. Miliano led all Big East kickers during postseason play with 12 points -- making both his field goal attempts and all six extra-point attempts against Duke.

Instant Analysis: Cincinnati 48, Duke 34

December, 27, 2012
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Cincinnati dug out of an early 16-0 hole Thursday night and defeated Duke in a thrilling Belk Bowl, 48-34. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Brendon Kay hit Travis Kelce for the longest touchdown in Belk Bowl history, 83 yards, as the tight end went untouched for the deciding score with 44 seconds remaining. On Duke's ensuing possession, Maalik Bomar drilled Sean Renfree and Nick Temple came up with the pick, returning it 55 yards for the touchdown with 14 seconds left to make it 48-34.

Game ball goes to: Cincinnati had a number of offensive players who put up huge numbers and are more than worthy of this honor, but in the end you have to go with the man who orchestrated the attack. Kay completed 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards with four touchdowns, and he added 76 rushing yards on 10 carries.

Stat of the game: Pretty simple: Duke turned the ball over four times, including twice in the red zone. Cincinnati never turned it over, giving the Bearcats just enough in a game it ended up being outgained by a slim 560-554 margin.

Unsung hero of the game: With Duke facing a second-and-goal from the Cincinnati 5 with less than 2 minutes to play in a tied game, Brandon Mills forced a Josh Snead fumble, with John Williams recovering it. Kay hit Kelce for the game-winner four plays later. Greg Blair also deserves credit for forcing -- and recovering -- a Jela Duncan fumble in the second quarter right before Duncan broke the goal line. A touchdown there would have added to Duke's early 16-3 lead.

What Cincinnati learned: These Bearcats deserve plenty of credit. Playing under interim coach Steve Stripling, following the departure of Butch Jones to Tennessee, Cincinnati fell behind 16-0 early to a team playing close to home. The Bearcats could have easily folded. Instead, they recovered to take the lead before halftime, forced timely turnovers and walked away with their 10th win of the season, their fifth 10-win campaign in the past six years, marking an unprecedented stretch in program history.

What team Duke learned: The Blue Devils made it to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years, but they could not snap their 52-year streak without a bowl win, despite starting off hot and having a number of opportunities to put Cincinnati away. The loss means the ACC cannot finish with a winning record this season against the Big East, which leads the season series 5-4 with one game remaining between the conferences. (Virginia Tech-Rutgers in Friday's Russell Athletic Bowl.)

Belk Bowl keys: Cincinnati

December, 27, 2012
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Three keys for Cincinnati in tonight's Belk Bowl matchup against Duke:

1. Establish the run: George Winn led the Big East in rushing yards with 1,204, and he averaged more yards per game this season (100.3) than Isaiah Pead did last season when the latter was named the conference's offensive player of the year. The redshirt senior keyed the Big East's No. 2 rushing attack, and the Bearcats would be smart to ride that in the early going against a Duke defense that has surrendered 269.8 yards per game on the ground over the season's final six games.

2. Limit the big pass: The Blue Devils had three players top the 600-yard receiving mark this season and boast the ACC's career receiving yards leader in Conner Vernon, though Jamison Crowder (70 catches, 1,025 yards, eight touchdowns) is actually the team leader in receiving yards. Cincinnati led the Big East in pass efficiency defense this season, and the Bearcats have held their past four opponents to fewer than 17 points, with three scoring just 10. Their 14 interceptions were good for second in the Big East.

3. Find Travis Kelce. The first-team All-Big East tight end did his best work down the stretch of the season with Brendon Kay under center, catching 17 passes for 285 yards with three touchdowns over his past three games. He also threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kay in the regular-season finale at Connecticut. For the season, Kelce led all Big East tight ends with 599 receiving yards, a school record for a tight end.
Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce had a breakout season, leading the Bearcats with 32 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns en route to Big East first-team honors.

Former coach Butch Jones has said no player on the team showed more growth than Kelce this year. Indeed, Kelce has seen his name shoot up draft boards as he prepares to play his final game for Cincinnati, against Duke in the Belk Bowl on Thursday. I had a chance to catch up with Kelce and ask him about his performance this season and what is up next for him after the bowl.

Here is a little of what he had to say.

What went into your breakthrough performance this year?

TK: First of all, my dedication to trying to get to the next level, the fact that I knew I wasn’t getting very much publicity, I hadn’t done anything that I had dreamt of or thought I was going to be able to do in college football. I came in as a quarterback, but once I switched to tight end, I thought I was going to blow up the charts right away and that didn’t happen. It was definitely the pressure of having one more year to go and just put that extra dedication in. I made a lot of sacrifices off the field to get in the weight room more, to get more focused on the year and a lot of things have paid off for me.

[+] EnlargeTravis Kelce
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsExtra weight room work and a better diet helped Travis Kelce become a force at TE for Cincinnati.
Why do you think that you were not as successful as you wanted once you made the switch?

TK: First things first, I had a couple surgeries. I’m not going to be the one to say that’s the reason I didn’t do anything but the surgeries held me back from getting in the weight room and being able to be a blocker. That’s the first thing you’ve got to do as a tight end. Being locked in 24/7 and buying in to what the coaches were saying -- once I did that, once I understood how everything worked related to football, it clicked for me. As the year progressed, everything slowed down for me and I got better. This is only my second year playing tight end, so to come out and have a year like this, I really think it was an accomplishment.

Did you set out to be the first-team Big East tight end?

TK: Definitely that was one of the goals. I had a couple other higher-end goals, but definitely that goal was reachable and I knew with the offense we have and the accountability the coaches were going to put on me, it was something I had to take as a senior. That accolade, to be the best at your position in your conference, you want that on your résumé. That was definitely one of the goals I had coming into the season.

What types of extra work did you do to improve yourself?

TK: First off, the weight room helped me out tremendously. I started getting to eating right, so that my body would be able to withstand lifting twice a day and still on top of that being able to get conditioning in. It definitely started with eating right, getting the right supplements and nutrition into your body and hitting the weight room as much as possible without actually killing your body.

How much did your brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce, help you out?

TK: I couldn’t have a better resource than my brother. He’s one of the smartest guys you’ll have a conversation with. He knows so much about so many different things. For him to be there for me every step of the way, he helped me out with the nutrition, he helped me out with the lifts, he helped me out with everything football-wise, knowledge-wise. For him to already go through this whole process and be able to get to the NFL and start for a whole season his rookie year, that was huge. I knew I was going to be able to take advantage of that.

What have you heard from people in terms of your draft prospects?

TK: I haven’t necessarily talked to scouts. All I can do is look at the scouting websites. I’ve definitely risen up the board all the way up to No. 3 among the senior tight end class, which I think is a down statement. That just tells you how confident I am. It’s a process and I think hopefully being able to get into the Senior Bowl and going to the combine will really boost my stock up even more. It’s something you just have to focus on getting better every single day and that’s all I can do at this point.

What do you want to work on to help your draft stock?

TK: First things first, my upper body strength and my lower body strength. It would be good to get into the weight room to show them I can be that dominating blocker. The footwork on the film hasn’t been what I want it to be, but that just comes with developing and getting reps and stuff like that. I have made huge strides, but I think running the 40 and just being more consistent on the techniques of route running. Just being an all-around tight end to show them I can be a force no matter where I go.
The goal today for Cincinnati is the same goal it was two weeks, when coach Butch Jones was still in the building.

Win 10 games.

No coaching change has deterred what these Bearcats have set out to do in the Belk Bowl against Duke on Dec. 27 in Charlotte, N.C. Are they down several assistants? Yes. Are they missing their offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators? Yes. But that has not seemed to faze anyone now that bowl practices are underway, with interim coach Steve Stripling in charge.

Stripling does plan on joining Jones in Tennessee after the bowl game.

"It's hats off to Coach Stripling," tight end Travis Kelce said in a phone interview Monday with ESPN.com. "All the guys love him to death. For him to still be in Cincinnati, being our head coach and leading us to this last bowl game, it's huge for us. We're really short-handed right now. For Coach Strip to be a big man for every single player on this team is huge. It's going way better than expected, I can say that."

Kelce has some experience to compare that to, having been on the team when Brian Kelly left in 2009.

"I believe it's going way better than the Kelly year," Kelce said. "Just the amount of energy during practices, and guys being locked in and actually focused on doing the right things, not straying and being distractions."

Kelce says there is no extra motivation in trying to show their former coaches what they are missing, but they are more focused than ever on getting 10 wins for the fifth time in six seasons -- a huge accomplishment the senior class wants to achieve.

"It's definitely making us lock in a lot more," Kelce said. "The chemistry on the team is so good, and so high. The young guys really love the old guys, the old guys are making sure the young guys are getting better during this process. They don't want to let us down so everybody is focused on getting 10 and that makes us lock in even more, knowing the whole coaching staff isn't here. It's been a rough transition, but we're handling it the best we possibly can."

ESPN.com All-Big East team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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The time has finally come to announce our picks for the ESPN.com All-Big East team.

You will see that only a few selections differ from the coaches'; they made their first- and second-team selections last week. Among the notable differences: I have Cincinnati running back George Winn on the first team ahead of Pitt running back Ray Graham. I thought Graham was great this year in his return from a torn ACL. But I thought Winn was better and more consistent. He also had more total yards rushing (1,204 to 1,042 for Graham), a higher rushing average (5.3 ypc to 4.7 ypc) and more 100-yard games.

I also have Pitt receiver Devin Street on the first team over DeVante Parker from Louisville. Parker had some flashy catches this year, but Street was way more productive and consistent. I actually went back and forth between Street and teammate Mike Shanahan for first-team honors. Both are worthy.

Defensively, I only have three linebackers on my team (no ties allowed!) so Sio Moore of UConn gets bumped. Moore had a heck of a year, no question, and linebacker was perhaps the strongest position in the league across every team. But I thought Yawin Smallwood, Greg Blair and Khaseem Greene were better. I also have Calvin Pryor at safety over Duron Harmon.

Here is the team in its entirety:

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

RB: Montel Harris, Temple

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati

WR: Alec Lemon, Syracuse

WR: Devin Street, Pitt

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

OT: Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati

OG: Antwan Lowery, Rutgers

K: Brandon McManus, Temple

RS: Matt Brown, Temple

DEFENSE

DE: Trevardo Williams, UConn

DE: Dan Giordano, Cincinnati

DT: Scott Vallone, Rutgers

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati

LB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

CB: Adrian Bushell, Louisville

CB: Logan Ryan, Rutgers

S: Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

P: Brandon McManus, Temple

Big East helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
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Here are the Big East guys who stood out the most during the final regular season weekend.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Yeah, the sophomore completed 20 of 28 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns … and that tells you absolutely nothing about his performance in a 20-17 win over Rutgers. Bridgewater willed the Cardinals to the Big East's BCS bowl bid with a come-from-behind win Thursday night at Rutgers, overcoming a sprained right ankle and a fractured non-throwing wrist that kept him from practicing and almost kept him from playing. Tough to think he's just a sophomore.

Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati. What didn't Kelce do during a 34-17 win at UConn? He caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, and he threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Brendon Kay, too. The Bearcats have a share of their fourth Big East title in the past five years, and the strong play of their senior tight end is a big reason for that.

Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Take a bow, Ray. More than a year ago you tore the ACL in your right knee. On Saturday you extended your team's season -- and your college career -- by rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns in 27-3 win over USF. And you notched your first 1,000-yard season, too -- one year after falling 42 yards short because of the injury.


Tell me if you have heard this one before: Cincinnati, Big East champs.

The Bearcats won at least a share of the Big East for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in the past five years with a 34-17 win over UConn on a frigid Saturday, denying the Huskies a bowl spot for the second straight season.

Neither team had much success rushing the football -- nobody went over 100 yards on the ground. Instead, both had to rely on the pass and the Bearcats are simply better in that area than the Huskies. They have been all season. UConn tried to hit some big plays early in the game, but its receivers had a hard time hanging onto the football.

Meanwhile, UConn saw first-hand why other teams have had a tough time slowing down Travis Kelce, who showed why he is the best tight end in the Big East this season. The Huskies had no answer for him, as Kelce accounted for three total touchdowns -- two receiving and one passing.

The turning point, though, came in the third quarter, after Chandler Whitmer took a shot to the head and was forced to leave the game for the second straight week. Johnny McEntee came on in relief. Last week, he was able to lead the Huskies (5-7, 2-5) to the upset win over Louisville. But this week, he threw two interceptions -- including a critical one with UConn trailing 24-17. The Bearcats (9-3, 5-2) converted that mistake into a touchdown run by George Winn, and they never looked back.

Cincinnati finishes the season in a four-way tie atop the Big East standings, declared co-champions with Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse. The Bearcats' most likely postseason destination is the Belk Bowl in North Carolina against an ACC opponent. But perhaps the bigger question now is whether coach Butch Jones will stick around for another season.

Jones' name has come up for the openings at Purdue and Colorado. Last season, Jones turned down an offer from Illinois -- where his former athletic director is now in charge. Though Jones has continually said that he is happy with the Bearcats, this is a story that bears watching.

As for UConn, there will now be questions about whether coach Paul Pasqualoni enters next season on the hot seat. UConn made a BCS bowl in 2010 and has followed that up with consecutive 5-7 seasons. The offense leaves plenty to be desired and has led some to wonder whether offensive coordinator George DeLeone is on the hot seat himself.

The defense played well enough to make a bowl game this season. The offense did not, and now the Huskies have to re-evaluate in the offseason.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 25, 2012
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Here's who stood out the most in the Big East in Week 13.

Syracuse ground game: The Orange put up 260 yards on the ground in a 38-20 victory at Temple, and they got contributions everywhere. Jerome Smith had his usual strong performance, putting up 96 yards on 20 carries. But Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore delivered as well. Gulley rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Ameen-Moore had 57 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati: Kelce set the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, catching seven passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in the Bearcats' 27-10 win over South Florida.

Ray Graham, RB, Pitt: Graham delivered on senior day, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries as the Panthers handed Rutgers its first Big East loss of the season, 27-6.

Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut: McCombs has had back-to-back 100-yard games. UConn has back to back Big East wins. No coincidence. McCombs helped the Huskies shock Louisville in triple overtime, rushing for 133 yards on 29 carries.

Cincinnati dominates South Florida

November, 23, 2012
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The game between Cincinnati and South Florida turned out the way most anticipated it would before kickoff.

Without much on the line for either team, we were left with some pretty uninspired football at times. A first-half punt-fest eventually turned into a pretty dominating 27-10 win for the Bearcats on Friday night. And once again, two of the most pleasant surprises in the entire Big East led Cincinnati to the victory.

George Winn posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season, and Travis Kelce set the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Winn had two touchdowns rushing and Kelce had one receiving as Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) was able to overcome a sluggish start on Senior Day.

As for USF, this is a team that has struggled to get any sort of offensive production or consistency going with B.J. Daniels on the sideline. The Bulls had gone 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown, until Demetris Murray got into the end zone in the fourth quarter to break that streak. Before that score, the last time USF scored a touchdown was in the first quarter of its Nov. 3 victory over Connecticut -- when Daniels was still healthy.

Coach Skip Holtz's decision-making was called into question again following Murray's score. USF decided to go for the extra point to make it 27-10. Had USF (3-8, 1-5) gone for two and made it, the Bulls would have trailed by 16 points (or two scores).

Quarterback Matt Floyd struggled once again, though he was better in the second half. In the first half, USF only had 95 total yards and Floyd had five pass completions. He did better after halftime, but was not nearly as productive as a starting quarterback should be. He is missing several of his top playmakers, but he also had many playmakers out there -- including Andre Davis.

The Bulls had problems holding onto the football as well. They had EIGHT fumbles, though they only lost two. And now, they are the first USF team to ever lose eight games.
So who will transform tomorrow with an impact performance in Week 13?

I have decided to go with Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce for a few reasons. First and foremost, Kelce has been under the radar this season despite having one of the best seasons for a tight end in school history.

He leads the team with 28 catches for 472 yards and four touchdowns. He has the longest reception of the season -- a 78-yard touchdown against Fordham. And he has posted career-highs for single-game receiving yards (101 against Fordham) and receptions (five against Rutgers).

Kelce is now within 10 yards of Brent Celek (481 receiving yards in 2006) for second most by a Bearcats tight end in school history. He needs 25 yards to pass Joe Koynock into first place on that list.

After his four-catch, 77-yard, two-touchdown performance a few weeks ago against Syracuse, Coach Butch Jones said, "Travis Kelce has come as far as anyone in our football program."

It is senior day, so Kelce will probably be extra motivated. And now factor in the opponent: USF. The Bulls had major problems covering anybody in a 40-9 loss to Miami last week. That includes tight end Clive Walford.

Walford ended up with a career-high 135 receiving yards in the game against the Bulls -- the second-most receiving yards by a Hurricanes tight end in program history. That probably bodes well for Kelce, as he seeks to set the school record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end later Friday.
Hello, George Winn!

For those who were unaware of just how solid the senior running back has been this season, we present his performance in a 35-24 win over Syracuse. Winn was the difference-maker for the Bearcats, running for a career-high 169 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing another touchdown to Travis Kelce on a beautiful jump pass.

Meanwhile, the Munchie Legaux era could be over for the Bearcats. Legaux was benched in the third quarter with Cincinnati down, after struggling with his passing once again. Backup Brendon Kay led back-to-back scoring drives for Cincinnati (6-2, 2-1 Big East) to help the Bearcats stay alive in the Big East race.

As for Syracuse (4-5, 3-2), it was yet another disappointing performance filled with one mistake after another. Special teams was particularly vexing, with a missed field goal, a blocked field goal and a fumble on the opening kickoff that led to a Cincinnati score. The Orange also had way too many penalties -- again -- 12 for 110 yards. And they finished 9-of-21 on third-down conversions.

Plus, there will be plenty of angry Syracuse fans after two questionable calls went against the Orange. The first was what looked like a clear fumble by Winn. Officials on the field called him down, and the replay booth confirmed the call. Later in the game, Legaux fumbled as he ran out of bounds near the goal line. The officials on the field ruled the play a touchdown.

Replay officials later ruled the ball hit at the 6-inch line -- not on the goal line as it appeared on replay, which would have resulted in a touchback. Cincinnati ended up scoring one play after retaining possession.

But given the way the Orange played throughout the game, it is easy just to point to the officials. At some point, Syracuse has to make the plays down the stretch to win the game. Instead, the Orange could not stop Winn or the running game in the second half, and failed to make the plays they needed to make when they had plenty of opportunities to stay in the game in the fourth quarter.

Big East mailblog

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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Before I begin, thank you to all you wonderful readers out there for keeping me on my toes. In my Monday column on Louisville, I had a typo calling Cincinnati and Louisville in-state rivals. I meant to write cross-state. Geography was never my strong point, but that was just a boneheaded mistake.

Now let us open up the mailbag.

John in Louisville writes: Honestly, I like Butch Jones, the man has guts and heart. On to my question: with U of L 8-0, what do you think the chances are now that they go undefeated? How negative to the national perception of the Big East would it be if they went into the Rutgers game (with both undefeated in league play) and lost?

Andrea Adelson: Considering I have Louisville playing in the Orange Bowl, I like the Cardinals' chances. But I do not think there are any guarantees, particularly with the way Louisville has played. Louisville is not a dominant team right now that can shut its opponents down, so I would like to see that develop in the final stretch before I make iron-clad guarantees about this team running the table. I think Louisville still remains vulnerable. As for the national perception, if Rutgers goes into that game with a loss, I think there is a good chance the Scarlet Knights will be ranked. I think it would be much worse for the Big East if Louisville loses to Temple or UConn, to be honest. Folks out there know Rutgers is a good team and has the home-field advantage as well.

Aaron in Cincinnati writes: All right Andrea, I have to say, my Bearcats showed a lot of heart in Friday's game, and I honestly had ZERO faith that we would score that game tying TD. But it really shouldn't have gotten to overtime. Everyone wants to talk about Munchie's three interceptions, but seem to forget about the (Travis) Kelce drop on third down when it was 24-24 with 2:30 left and the Bearcats had some decent momentum. All we had to do after that was pretty much run the clock down and get in decent field goal range (the 46-yard attempt never had a chance with that wind). Not that I don't think Munchie shouldn't bear a lot of the blame, but that drop was the turning point in my mind.

Adelson: Aaron, there is no question that was a huge play in the game. But I don't think you can pin one drop on the fortunes of the team, as painful as the play appears to have been. We can only guess as to what would have happened had he made that catch. The secondary should have never allowed Louisville to score the go-ahead touchdown. Legaux should have never thrown the ball into the end zone in overtime, either.

Jim in Freeport, Pa., writes: How does Notre Dame now being a winner affect Big East bowls, in general?

Adelson: No impact, Jim. The Big East has a guaranteed spot in a BCS game. As for the other bowls, Notre Dame already took a Big East bowl spot last year.

Jim Brown in Atlanta writes: What is the extent of Walter Stewart's injury or medical condition? Is it life threatening?

Adelson: It is not life threatening, Jim. He has a back injury and continuing with football could put him at risk for further damage to his spine.

Rusty in Raleigh writes: I've watched South Florida play against Florida State and Louisville this year and they seem to have as much or more talent than them, but they seem to always lose. Why can't the Bulls win?

Adelson: It is one of those great mysteries in life. The bottom line is this team just does not have a killer instinct in the fourth quarter. USF has lost all manner of heartbreakers going back two years now. They have big leads and blow them. They come back from deficits to take a late lead, only to blow them. USF pulled out a close one at Nevada early in the year, and many thought the luck was finally turning. But there has only been misery since that victory. Until the Bulls can put teams away, it feels as if they are in an endless cycle of heartache.

Lawrence Bisig in Louisville writes: If Louisville runs the table, but loses to Rutgers in the final week, and Rutgers wins the automatic bid, assuming a few more top 10 teams will go down. Could a one-loss Louisville team earn an at large bid?

Adelson: I am going to say the chances would be remote. In order to earn an at-large bid, you have to finish in the Top 14 of the final BCS standings, and then be attractive enough to be taken as a second team from your conference. Also remember there may not be many slots available. Notre Dame gets an automatic berth if it finishes in the Top 8 of the final BCS standings; and Boise State would get an automatic berth if it finishes in the Top 12. Right now, Notre Dame is No. 3 and Boise State is No. 19. Just keep an eye on them.

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