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Belk Bowl: Cincinnati and North Carolina enter after winning streak-snapping losses

Nick Bromberg
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Belk Bowl
Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
Charlotte, NC
Dec. 28, 2013

Both Cincinnati and North Carolina enter the Belk Bowl off losses, but don't let it make you think that each team is entering the postseason on a slide. However, it is fair to ask how seriously we can take either's success too.

Before falling to Louisville 31-24 in OT, the Bearcats had won six straight games. Granted, the six teams that Cincinnati beat had a combined American Athletic Conference record of 17-29 (including five wins that belonged to Houston), but hey, six straight is six straight. We'll save the nitpicking for later.

North Carolina started the season horribly at 1-5 and rebounded with five straight wins to get bowl eligible before losing to Duke. However, one of those wins was over Old Dominion, an FBS independent transitioning into the top level of college football and the combined ACC record of its four other opponents in that period is 7-25.

Marquise Williams has seized the starting quarterback job after Bryn Renner went down with a season-ending shoulder injury for the Tar Heels. He's the team's leading rusher and has tossed more touchdowns than Renner, though Renner's completion percentage is substantially higher.

Cincinnati's Brandon Kay became the starting quarterback after Munchie Legaux went down with a gruesome knee injury in the second game of the season against Illinois. That was a game that the Bearcats lost 45-17, the first of two head-scratching losses to bad teams. The other was a 26-20 loss to South Florida. If you want an example of USF's impotence, that's the most points that the Bulls scored all season.

So how strong of a 9-3 team is Cincinnati? How weak of a 6-6 is North Carolina? Can you flip flop the adjectives? Carolina's a 2.5 point favorite if you're in to that sort of thing. Maybe we'll find out Saturday.

MASCOT FIGHT

Did you know that a bearcat is officially known as a binturong? If you didn't, consider that your fact for the day. The nickname Tar Heel was derived from Revolutionary War legend about North Carolina soldiers holding their ground. A species from Asia and a soldier from the Revolutionary War would never have encountered each other, but if they did, we'll give the advantage to the one with the gun.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: North Carolina 34, Cincinnati 27. This might be one of the better games of the bowl season because both teams are hot (even though both lost their last game). However, it's also one of the toughest contests to pick. These teams are pretty even, but I think UNC has played tougher competition this season and will be the better choice here.

Nick: Cincinnati 27, North Carolina 20. Let's go with the "opposite of Graham" theory. Two of the teams that North Carolina beat in its streak to get bowl eligible would have fit right in at the bottom of the AAC standings. It's close, but Cincinnati is the better team and gets win No. 10.

Sam: Cincinnati 30, North Carolina 28. These teams traveled very similar paths this season with late-season winning streaks before losing in the season finale. UNC may have better athletes, but I like the leadership of Kay. He has been playing through injuries for much of the year and has gutted out some impressive performances. He has one more in him.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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