Belk Bowl Preview

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)

Bank of America Stadium

Charlotte, N.C.

Date: Dec. 27

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Surface: Grass

Duke is in the postseason for the first time since 1994, so there's an element of excitement surrounding the event for a program still trying to rise from the doldrums.

The matchup in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati in Charlotte, N.C., means that the Blue Devils will be playing in their home state in the first-ever meeting between the teams.

Cincinnati has a chance to notch its 10th win for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia Tech are the only schools to win 10 games the last five seasons.

Close losses -- they lost three games by a combined 16 points -- just may have kept the Bearcats from earning the Big East's BCS bowl berth.

The Bearcats also adjusted to a quarterback change with five weeks remaining in the season with Brendon Kay providing a much-needed spark. The Bearcats went 3-1 with him as the starter in place of Munchie Legaux.

Kay's ability to throw the deep ball provided an added dimension. But Cincinnati still uses its running game to jumpstart the offense, led by George Winn who has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

Duke's running has shown some life on occasion, but the Blue Devils accomplish most of their good deeds on offense through the air. Quarterback Sean Renfree is a three-year starter, and wide receiver Conner Vernon is the ACC's all-time leader in number of receptions and receiving yards.

This will be Duke's ninth all-time bowl appearance. Duke's last bowl victory was 7-6 decision against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl to cap the 1960 season. Cincinnati beat Vanderbilt 31-24 in last year's Liberty Bowl.



QB Brendon Kay took over as the Bearcats' starter in the third quarter on Nov. 3 against Syracuse. He is a capable runner when it's a designed play or when hurried, but he's also a skilled pocket passer.

LB Greg Blair stepped up his production after DE Walter Stewart was lost to a spine injury. Blair, who finished with 123 tackles, including 8.5 for losses and 2.5 sacks, quickly emerged as the emotional leader.

TE Travis Kelce has had one of the best seasons of any tight end in Bearcats history. Kelce, who emerged as Kay's favored receiver, finished with 599 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 15 yards per catch.


WR Conner Vernon has been one of the most distinguished players at any position for the Blue Devils and in the ACC. He is the conference's career leader in receptions with 273 and receiving yards with 3,630.

CB Ross Cockrell, who earlier in his career had been picked on regularly by opposing quarterbacks, leads the ACC in interceptions with five. He also has 63 tackles and his play is bound to be crucial.

QB Sean Renfree wraps up a career that has been full of good statistics, albeit relatively few victories. With a 66.3 completion percentage, he is on pace to break his single-season school record of 65 percent set last year.


If Duke's defense steps up, it could be a difference maker, but Cincinnati's all-around game may be too much to overcome.

Cincinnati 31-27