Belk Bowl 2012: Top Prospects to Watch For in ACC-Big East Matchup

Shawn BrubakerContributor IIDecember 26, 2012

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 14:  Morgan Burnett #1 and a group of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defenders tackle Conner Vernon #2 of the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Though hardly a marquee matchup, the Belk Bowl between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Duke Blue Devils features some talent that will be playing on Sundays, especially on offense.

The top two prospects in the game are receiving targets, so expect to see plenty of passing Thursday. 

Of course, the 12th-ranked Cincinnati defense could have something to say about that, as that unit features a decent amount of NFL-caliber talent as well.

Keep an eye out for these players in the Belk Bowl. You might just be seeing them on Sundays.


Conner Vernon, WR Duke

Currently slated as a fifth-round prospect, Duke receiver Conner Vernon has the size, speed and skills of an NFL receiver.

At 6'1" and with 4.5 speed, Vernon has the physical tools to compete at the NFL level. Vernon set a Duke single-season record this season with 75 catches, and he will be sure to expand on that number against Cincinnati. 

What is most impressive about Vernon is that he has been steadily improving throughout his time at Duke. After a solid freshman campaign, Vernon burst out for 973 yards and 956 yards the next two years, respectively. This season, Vernon is on pace to best his career-high for yardage, and he has already set his mark for touchdowns.

Working against Vernon is that he was shut down against top competition. Florida State and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were particularly effective, holding Vernon to just 12 yards in the game.

That won't be enough to keep a team looking for a solid possession receiver to call Vernon's name in the mid-rounds of the year's draft. With his production, Vernon is a name to watch for the future.


Travis Kelce, TE Cincinnati

Though a one-year wonder, Travis Kelce has burst onto the scene to be one of the best tight ends in the nation.

Kelce's production is certainly there, with 40 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns. With prototypical size at 6'5", 260 lbs, and surprising 4.65 speed, Kelce has the physical tools to compete at the highest level.

He is also a better blocker than many of his peers at the position. 

Though Kelce does not come from a premier program, he has the talent to compete with the top tight ends such as Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame and Zach Ertz from Stanford. Kelce is a sleeper who will rise as the offseason continues.


Drew Frey, SS Cincinnati

Frey was one of the leaders of a top-tier defense this season. The long-time starter has experience in spades, and paired with solid athletic ability, Frey is a nice sleeper for this year's draft.

Though Frey is only expected to get picked in the later rounds, the All-Big East safety deserves more recognition for what he brings.

One thing working against Frey, though, is his age. Frey will be 24 during the NFL draft thanks to receiving a sixth year of eligibility.

While that limits Frey's upside slightly, it doesn't take away from the fact that Frey is a big, hard-hitting safety who can play the pass and the run well.


Sean Renfree, QB Duke

Starting for Duke at quarterback can't be an easy job, but Sean Renfree has made the most of it. As the leader for the Blue Devils over the past three years, Renfree helped turn the school into a perennial cream puff to a bowl team.

He did this with great passing that got better every year. Every season as a starter, Renfree saw his completion percentage, touchdowns and passing efficiency go up, while his interceptions decreased. 

Renfree has prototypical size and physical ability for the position, but he has never beaten a top-tier team. In many ways, Renfree is the victim of playing football at a basketball school. He very well could be more highly-regarded if he had played on better teams. 

As is, Renfree is late-round prospect with upside. He could be worth developing as a backup.