Belk Bowl 2013: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina TV Info, Predictions and More
North Carolina and Cincinnati will battle it out in this year's Belk Bowl. With both offenses averaging more than 30 points per game, this has the potential to be an offensive lover's dream. The Bearcats ended the regular season winning six of their last seven games, while the Tar Heels won five of their last six to become bowl-eligible.
These are two hot teams looking to end the season on the right note. If both squads play the way they're capable of, this could be one of the better bowl matchups on the menu. After all, four of the past five Belk Bowls have been decided by one possession.
Here's to hoping this will provide us with another competitive contest.
This is the second consecutive season Cincinnati has appeared in the Belk Bowl, as last year provided a 48-34 win over Duke. With a win, the Bearcats will finish their third straight year with 10 victories, and it would mark the sixth time in seven years where they have won double-digit games.
North Carolina has played in the Belk Bowl three times, but all of its appearances have resulted in a loss. The last time playing in this bowl was in 2009 when the Tar Heels lost to Pittsburgh. North Carolina is looking to finish the year with a winning record for the sixth straight season and is also looking for its first bowl win since 2010.
Cincinnati and North Carolina have played each other only twice, and the Tar Heels won both meetings in 1979 and 1991.
Time: Dec. 28. 3:20 p.m. ET
Place: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)
Cincinnati's Keys to Victory
Take Care of the Ball
It's no secret. It's tough to win games when you lose the turnover battle. Well, Cincinnati turned the ball over 26 times during the regular season. That includes coughing up the ball at least two times in the last four games. Whether it's 10 fumbles or 16 interceptions, Cincy finished tied with South Florida for the most turnovers in the AAC.
If the Bearcats have any chance of winning this game, it starts with taking care of the football. Keep playing carelessly, and the results won't turn out well.
Get the Running Game Going
Everybody sees that Cincinnati has one of the best passing games in the country, but the running game isn't too shabby. In fact, it led the AAC with an average of 168.33 rushing yards per game.
Hosey Williams, Ralph Abernathy and Tion Green all had more than 400 yards on the ground this season, and two of those backs averaged more than four yards per carry. Cincinnati also used the ground game to put a lot points on the board, as its 26 rushing touchdowns were by far the most in the AAC.
Run for more than 200 yards, and Cincinnati will cruise to victory.
North Carolina's Keys to Victory
Pressure the Quarterback
The Bearcats have done a wonderful job of protecting the quarterback, as 12 sacks allowed on the season makes for one of the best lines in the country.
However, they haven't faced a defensive front this physical. The Tar Heels usually get their sacks in bunches, as there have been four games that have produced at least three sacks. All of those games produced wins. Cincinnati was a little rattled against a decent Louisville pass-rush.
If North Carolina can generate similar pressure, it will win this game.
Win the Special Teams Battle
One of the underrated parts of North Carolina's turnaround season has come from the special teams.
Tommy Hibbard is averaging nearly 43 yards per punt and freshman Ryan Switzer has returned four punts for touchdowns. The Tar Heels actually lead the country with an average of 17.07 yards per punt return. These explosive plays not only change the momentum of the game, but they also help out an offense that can struggle to score at times.
North Carolina must get a couple of big plays from its special teams to increase its odds of winning.
Players to Watch for Cincinnati
Brendon Kay, Quarterback
The senior quarterback replaced Munchie Legaux two games into the season and has done an impressive job ever since. He's completed 68.6 percent of his passes, while throwing for 3,121 yards and 22 touchdowns. He threw for more than 400 yards in two of the final three games and had seven games of at least two touchdown passes.
Brendon Kay also has the ability to make plays with his legs when the opportunity presents itself. Overall, he's the reason Cincinnati has the 15th-best passing game in the country and forces the opposing secondary to play on its heels.
Silverberry Mouhon, Defensive Lineman
Cincinnati has several players who are capable of getting to the quarterback, but none are as explosive as Silverberry Mouhon. He leads the team with 9.5 sacks and is second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. Only a sophomore, he also appears to have found a rhythm on the defense, as four of those sacks came in the final three games. He gets off the ball quickly and has an athletic frame at 6'4".
Assuming he continues his momentum, Mouhon will be key in this bowl game for the Bearcats.
Greg Blair, LB: Blair leads the team with 96 tackles and is somebody who flies to the football. Really a fun linebacker to watch, as he's always searching for the next big play to help his defense.
Players to Watch for North Carolina
Eric Ebron, Tight End
It's Eric Ebron's last collegiate game before he bolts for the NFL draft. He's as athletic as a tight end can get, and he uses his long 6'4" frame to catch just about anything in sight. He had his best season this year, hauling in 55 receptions for 895 yards and three touchdowns.
While Ebron is dangerous in the red zone, he's also quite quick for a big guy and is capable of making plays after the catch just about anywhere on the field. The junior is a mismatch against any defense and that will once again be the case against Cincinnati.
Kareem Martin, Defensive Lineman
Kareem Martin is another player who is generating some NFL draft buzz. And for good reason, as he led the Tar Heels with 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. He also finished third on the team with 78 tackles, while adding 14 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles for good measure.
Needless to say, he's a handful for offensive linemen. Martin has a quick first step and can line up on either side of the defensive line. Martin will impact this game in one way or another.
NFL Prospects (Besides Ebron and Martin)
James Hurst, OL: One of the top tackles in the country, Hurst has the size and athleticism to be one of the first offensive linemen selected in the upcoming draft.
Tre Boston, S: Boston is one of the better coverage safeties in college football and has a knack for making the big play. He'll likely be selected in the middle rounds.
What They Are Saying
With a loss against Louisville, Cincinnati removed any hope of appearing in a BCS bowl. However, head coach Tommy Tuberville was honored to have his program appear in the Belk Bowl for the second straight season, per NCAA.com:
We are so pleased to be going to Charlotte to play in the 2013 Belk Bowl. The opportunity to play another game is huge for our team, our fans and for recruiting. It’s exciting and a tribute to our great fans that the Belk Bowl has selected UC two years in a row and I look forward to seeing Bearcats Nation in Charlotte on Dec. 28.
Cincinnati's director of athletics, Whit Babcock, was also excited for the opportunity:
“Our team is really looking forward to going back to Charlotte,” Babcock said. “We had a great experience last year and look forward to this trip.”
As for North Carolina, head coach Larry Fedora thinks that the recent loss to Duke is going to inspire his players to perform better in the upcoming bowl game, per Tate Frazier of Scout.com:
Sure it does. It’s a loss. Instead of being six in a row, it’s five in a row so yeah it takes away from it. It leaves a bad taste in the guy’s mouths right now especially for the seniors. We’ll rebound. This is a resilient football team. We’re not going to end this season today so we’ll rebound and we’ll prepare for whoever we’re going to play in the bowl game. I think we’ll play much better.
With both teams finishing the regular season with a loss, they should be hungry for a victory.
North Carolina can't remain winless in this bowl game, right? The 0-3 streak in the Belk Bowl has to eventually come to an end. But besides playing the odds, it's tough to argue that North Carolina is the more talented team on both sides of the ball.
The Tar Heels got off to a rocky start to begin the season, but they ended the year winning five of their last six games. The one loss came in the last minute to a pretty good Duke squad. Meanwhile, Cincinnati lost to two bad programs in Illinois and South Florida. The Bearcats also haven't run into much tough competition playing in the soft AAC.
North Carolina has been playing solid football over the past month and has more top-tier players to give Cincinnati trouble. Not to mention the game is being played in the Tar Heels' backyard in Bank of America Stadium.
Give me the home team in a close one.
North Carolina wins, 28-21