Thursday, December 31, 2009
Allstate Sugar Bowl preview
By ESPN.com staff
Breaking down the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday (FOX, 8:30 p.m. ET) between Cincinnati (12-0) and Florida (12-1):
WHO TO WATCH: Wow, where do you start? Florida coach Urban Meyer will step aside on his leave after this game, and it could also be the final game for several of the Florida juniors who are considering declaring early for the NFL draft. But the heart and soul of the Gators’ program for the past three years has been quarterback Tim Tebow, and he bids farewell to college football once and for all. Tebow is 34-6 as a starter and will go down as one of the greatest college football players of this era. Still, the image of him crying on the sideline in the final minutes of the SEC championship game loss to Alabama is one the Gators’ rivals like to remember. If it’s up to Tebow, he’ll give them one final image to remember.
WHAT TO WATCH: Prior to the SEC championship game, Florida had as much right as anybody to claim that it had the best defense in the country. But the Gators were carved apart by the Crimson Tide in their worst defensive performance in a long time. How do they bounce back? We’re going to find out against a Cincinnati club that ranks fifth nationally in scoring offense and sixth nationally in total offense. Quarterback Tony Pike is adept at getting rid of the ball quickly, and receiver Mardy Gilyard is equally adept at coming up with big plays. The Gators get their best pass-rusher back for this game, junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was suspended for the SEC championship game. The Gators also have one of the best cover cornerbacks in the country in Joe Haden, who will lock down on Gilyard and attempt to take him out of the game.
WHY TO WATCH: With all of the different storylines going on, the game itself has almost become secondary. Is it the last time we see Meyer running the show at Florida for a couple of months? An entire year? Possibly ever? Are the Gators distracted, or are they motivated? Can the Bearcats overcome Brian Kelly’s abandonment of them for the Notre Dame job and shock the college football world much the same way Utah did last season against Alabama? Does Tebow have one more storybook game in him before he takes his shot at the NFL? And can the Gators win 13 games for the third time in the past four years?
PREDICTION: As ordinary as Florida looked in the SEC championship game loss to Alabama nearly a month ago, this is still the same team that won 22 straight games. The Gators have better players, better depth and more speed than the Bearcats. They also have Tebow, who will see to it that the Gators are at the top of their game one final time before they all disband. Florida 38, Cincinnati 21.