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Cincinnati vs. North Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in 2013 Belk Bowl

Randy ChambersAnalyst IDecember 28, 2013

Cincinnati vs. North Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in 2013 Belk Bowl

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    North Carolina beat up Cincinnati 39-17 to win the 2013 Belk Bowl. It was the Tar Heels' second bowl win in four years and the Bearcats' first bowl loss since 2009. The game wasn't as competitive as expected, which was a real downer considering the hype heading into the matchup.

    But with both teams' seasons now in the books, it's time to look at what we learned.

    Among other things, one coach left for another program, Cincinnati has work to do on the offensive line, and North Carolina has a bright, bright future. 

Walt Bell Is Leaving North Carolina

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    A couple of weeks ago, North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson accepted the heading coaching job at Arkansas State. Now, North Carolina tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Walt Bell is leaving to become assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the same program, according to Dijana Kunovac of Scout.com:

    According to a source, Bell is receiving a two-year contract at $225,000 per year in his new position at Arkansas State, which is less than what UNC offered. That source said that Bell's strong relationship with Anderson -- which dates back to when Bell played for Anderson at Middle Tennessee State -- played a major factor in his decision, as did the autonomy offered by Arkansas State.

    Well, that didn't take long. 

The Belk Bowl's Streak of Close Games Comes to an End

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    If you sat down to enjoy this game, you were probably left disappointed—especially if you are a Cincinnati fan. But even if you didn't have a dog in the race, you weren't crazy to expect a close and enjoyable ball game. 

    Heading into this game, four of the last five Belk Bowls were decided by a touchdown or less. This game was one of the most lopsided in the history of the game, dating back to 2002. This is now the second straight game that was really competitive. 

    Quick—somebody change the sponsor, so this game can recapture some of its fascinating magic. 

The Tar Heels Will Miss Eric Ebron

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Fans knew this to be the case the second that Eric Ebron announced he was leaving early to enroll in the NFL draft. But it really sank in on Saturday.

    The tight end played his last game in a North Carolina uniform. He went out with a bang, hauling in seven passes for 78 yards. Even when he wasn't making catches, he was drawing the attention of two or three defenders, which helped some of his teammates make plays downfield.

    Ebron was a security blanket and a massive, elite talent who gave defenses nightmares. North Carolina will miss him.

Special Teams Are Still Key

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    It's my favorite part of football. Very few pay attention to it, but it often ends up making the difference in a ball game.

    Special teams!

    North Carolina's special teams unit is...um...special?

    T.J. Logan returned a kick 78 yards for a score in the first quarter, while Ryan Switzer returned a punt 86 yards for another touchdown to put the game away in the third. On top of the fantastic return game, North Carolina did a remarkable job on kick return coverage, with Tommy Hibbard averaging 44 yards per punt.

    The Tar Heels are going to win a lot of games if they can keep this up. 

Ryan Switzer Is a Star

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Speaking of Ryan Switzer, it's time to consider him a star college football player. If North Carolina can win a few more games next season and he has more of an offensive impact, he may even end up as a Heisman candidate.

    We're talking about a kid who returned his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown. He set a conference record and tied an NCAA record with a punt return in this win. 

    Did I mention he's only a freshman?

    Switzer is a stud to keep a close eye on next season. 

Cincinnati Has Something with Shaq Washington at QB

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    What do you do when your quarterback is struggling?

    Line up your sophomore receiver at the position and see what happens. 

    Shaq Washington played the position quite a bit throughout the game and ended up with four carries for 67 yards and a touchdown. He is an explosive player in the open field and gives the defense something else to worry about when he lines up in a Wildcat package.

    Hopefully this isn't a one-time thing for the Cincinnati offense, as he has the potential to produce some big-time plays next season. 

Cincinnati's Offensive Line Is Overrated

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    The key for Cincinnati heading into the game was simple: Protect the quarterback. Although the Bearcats only allowed 12 sacks on the season before this matchup, they never faced a pass rush this explosive in the watered-down American Athletic Conference. Tar Heels such as Kareem Martin and Norkeithus Otis are no joke. 

    Well, Brendon Kay ended up tasting dirt more times than not, as he was sacked at least a half-dozen times in the losing effort. It didn't matter if North Carolina was blitzing or not—Cincinnati had no answer for the Tar Heels front seven.

    The Bearcats' offensive-line numbers had more to do with a lack of competition during the season. 

But Brendon Kay Didn't Help Himself

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    As always, you can't blame everything on one unit. While the big uglies didn't help much, Brendon Kay didn't do himself any favors. 

    In fact, he consistently held onto the ball way too long. Sure, defenders ran untouched in some plays, but Kay knew the line was struggling all game. Nevertheless, he still had trouble in making quick decisions and sometimes tried to do too much with the football.

    Kay, who is a senior quarterback, should have been better prepared to deal with this type of pass rush.

Marquise Williams Has a Promising Future

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    It's still a little tough to figure out Marquise Williams, considering he only played half the season. But he showed some bright moments in this victory.

    Completing only 57.6 percent of his passes and throwing for less than 200 yards isn't going to turn many heads, but the fact that he didn't throw an interception is impressive. Williams was careful with the football, took what the defense gave him and made plays when his team needed it most.

    He's still raw and needs to work on his deep-ball accuracy, but North Carolina has a promising player at quarterback heading into next season. 

North Carolina Is a Program on the Rise

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    If you thought this season was a success, you haven't seen anything yet. Not only is North Carolina heading into next season with playmakers Ryan Switzer and Marquise Williams, but defensive backs Jeff Schoettmer and Dominique Green are also underclassmen who will be on the roster for another year. 

    Those players were key this season and should be even better with a year under their belts.

    If that weren't enough, North Carolina also has a top-25 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. The class includes running back Elijah Hood and offensive lineman Bentley Spain, who both can contribute right away.

    So much for being a basketball school, right?

    North Carolina could make a quiet run for an ACC title next season. 

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