The 2012 Belk Bowl will be played between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Duke Blue Devils, two teams that have had different paths and experiences, but could ultimately end up playing a pretty good football game.
The Bearcats got to the game in Charlotte by finishing clumped into the 5-2 four-way-tie at the top of the Big East Conference. They have an impressive 9-3 overall record with wins in four of their last five games, losing to only the then-No. 22 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Blue Devils on the other hand started off very hot, going 5-1 after a pretty convincing 42-17 win over the Virginia Cavilers. But the second half of the season saw them go 1-5, with the win being a huge rivalry win against the North Carolina Tarheels.
With rumors of Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones climbing the coaching ladder, will this come to be a distraction for either him or his players? Will Duke be able to hone in on their strengths and find their first bowl win since 1960, a 7-6 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Cotton Bowl?
Both teams will need their star players to perform. For Cincinnati, it’s running back George Winn who has amassed 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground this year, and has a 5.3 yards per-carry average. For the Blue Devils, it’s their senior quarterback Sean Renfree, who has a solid 2,755 yards through the air and 18 touchdowns on only eight interceptions.
One of the biggest differences between the two sides is their amounts of injuries sustained. While the Bearcats have been pretty fortunate in the injury department, the Duke injury report looks more like a battle report. In Week 4, Duke lost three players for the year due to academics or transfer, and three players for the year to injuries.
The next week followed with linebacker Kelby Brown injuring his ACL and being done for the season. In Week 9, they lost tight end Jack Ferrell and strong safety Corbin McCarthy for the rest of the year, both to injuries.
What I think this game will come down to is defense. Cincinnati allows a stingy 17.2 points per-game, good for No. 12 in the country in that category. Duke on the other hand ranks No. 105 in that stat, allowing 35 per-game. I think the fact that all of Cincinnati’s losses have been very close as well as their superior defense, will enable them to beat the Duke Blue Devils 49-33.