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Belk Bowl preview: Cincinnati vs. Duke

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Belk Bowl
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Bearcats: Cincinnati had a pretty crazy season, and that didn't stop once the regular-season games were done. The Bearcats started 5-0, lost two road games in a row by a combined nine points, then on Nov. 3 against Syracuse the team made a quarterback change, bringing in Brendon Kay to replace Munchie Legaux. Kay played well in the final five games as the team won four, with a tough 10-3 loss to Rutgers as the only blemish. Then after the season, coach Butch Jones started talking to other teams about their vacancies, it appeared for a very short while that he might stay at Cincinnati, but then he took off to become Tennessee's next coach. He was quickly replaced by a surprise hire: Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. Defensive line coach Steve Stripling will coach the Belk Bowl.

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Duke QB Sean Renfree (USA Today Sports Images)

About the Blue Devils: Once Duke got its sixth win this season, everything else was a bonus. Duke has not been to a bowl game since 1994, but with a last-second win against rival North Carolina on Oct. 20 it became bowl eligible. And, well, the Blue Devils didn't do a whole lot after that sixth win. A four-game losing streak followed to finish the season, with losses of 41, 36 and 18 points during that span. There's a lot on the line for the Blue Devils. A loss would mean a 6-7 finish to the season, which would take away some of the excitement of making a bowl. A bowl victory would be the first for Duke since it beat Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 1960 season.

Key numbers: 273 and 3,630
Duke receiver Conner Vernon will be the focal point of Cincinnati's defense. Vernon holds the ACC career records for receptions, with 273, and receiving yards, with 3,630.

The breakdown: This is an interesting matchup, because Cincinnati is clearly the better team, but Duke has a lot more to play for and has a semi-home-field advantage playing in Charlotte. The Blue Devils haven't won a bowl game in 52 years, something they would definitely like to change in the Belk Bowl. But Cincinnati isn't going to lay down. A 10-win season and a bowl victory would be a nice way to end the season.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Cincinnati 40, Duke 20

Duke's story is great. It's defense (ranked 103rd in FBS in yards allowed, 102nd in points allowed, 102nd in rushing yards allowed and 101st in pass efficiency allowed), is not. Duke will have a lot of intangibles in its favor, but not a lot of tangible edges.

Graham Watson: Duke 28, Cincinnati 17
I don’t think this is a great matchup, but Duke has surprised me all season. I think they do it again against Cincy. The Bearcats are going to be a little down after losing coach Butch Jones and I’m not sure the motivation will be there. Duke, on the other hand, has a chance to finish with its first winning season since 1994. I think that’s enough to give the Blue Devils the edge.

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