By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicked off Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving the recruiting that soon follows.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Sugar Bowl, January 1st, 8:30 PM, New Orleans, LA
No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. No. 5 Florida (12-1)
About Cincinnati : After an opening season win against Rutgers, the Bearcats stood tall and said, we are here, get used to it. Opponents tumbled, all in a row, as Cincinnati ran the table, heading into the bowl game a perfect 12-0.
The Bearcats work effectively with an offense ranked sixth in NCAA FBS (464.25 yards a game). This is led by their sixth ranked passing attack (320.33 yards a game), that puts up the sixth most points in NCAA FBS (39.83).
Senior QB Tony Pike threw for 2350 yards and 26 touchdowns in nine games of work, missing three straight weeks towards the end of October for injury. However, Cincy fans need not worry, as backup QB Zach Collaros filled in admirably, throwing for 1434 yards and 10 touchdowns. Should Pike’s injury flair up, the Bearcats are one of few teams who can be confident with their backup.
Senior WR Mardy Gilyard benefits the most from the two QBs, catching 80 balls for 1150 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Cincinnati Spread Offense. Junior WR Armon Binns contributed 56 catches for 859 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Cincinnati defense was solid in 2009, holding opponents to 20.75 points a game (24th in NCAA FBS). They used their pressure exclusively, finishing third in tackles for loss per game (8.42).
Senior LB Andre Revels leads the team with 103 tackles (3.5 for loss), and an interception. Senior DE Alex Daniels contributed 50 tackles (8 for loss), and 6.5 sacks. His 6.5 sacks were key for a team averaging 2.92 sacks a game (eighth in NCAA FBS).
Cincinnati struggled towards the end, winning two key games by four points total. They will need to find that fire to escape with a victory.
About Florida : The Gators had national title on it’s mind, and no opponent was going to stop them. They steamrolled through their schedule, winning all but one game by at least ten points, averaging a 20 point score margin.
They went to the SEC Championship, a matchup of #1 UF and #2 Alabama. Unlike last year, UF would have no answer for the undefeated Tide, and succumbed 32-13, falling to the Sugar Bowl.
The Gators sport a top offense, averaging 442.38 yards a game (12th in NCAA FBS), led by the 10th ranked running game (225.23 yards a game). They are led by three-time Heisman finalist QB Tim Tebow, who is the heart and soul of the UF offense. He piled up 3272 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns.
Senior WR Riley Cooper and Junior TE Aaron Hernandez are Tebow’s top targets in the Spread offense UF runs so effectively. The two combined for 1519 yards and 12 touchdowns.
When Tebow wasn’t running with the ball, the opportunity was given to RBs Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey to shine. The two combined for 1286 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Led by one of the top Defensive Coordinators in Charlie Strong, the Gators held opponents to a mere 11.54 points per game (third in the nation), and a measly 253.08 yards a game (fourth in NCAA FBS). Six of their 13 opponents failed to score double digits in 2009.
The pass defense is especially effective, ranked third in the nation, giving up only 151.46 yards a game. Junior CB Joe Haden leads the secondary with 62 tackles, three sacks, and four interceptions.
Senior LB Brandon Spikes was one of the vocal leaders of the defense, piling up 62 tackles (five for loss), 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions, both of which were returned for scores. Junior DE Carlos Dunlap lead the team with nine tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks on the season.
UF is one of the best all-around teams in NCAA this season, with an effective offense and defense.
The Matchup : Cincinnati is 5-5 in bowl games. This is their fourth straight bowl appearance, and second straight BCS game. They lost their first BCS game, the 2008 Orange Bowl, 20-7 to Virginia Tech.
Florida is 17-19 in bowl games. This is their 19th straight bowl appearance, and second straight BCS game. They defeated Oklahoma 24-14 to clinch their third NCAA National Championship last season.
Florida has a solid pass rush, averaging 2.69 sacks a game, led by playmaker Dunlap, returning from suspension. With the abilities of their secondary, if Dunlap and company can get past one of the top offensive lines (11 sacks given up in 2009), they can force Pike to throw or take the sack.
Pike is less mobile than Collaros, so pressure might force an uncharacteristic mistake or two. UF’s secondary is one of the best in the nation, but must have proper field discipline, not leaving their assignment, or Pike will hit Gilyard or Binns, easily.
Cincinnati will have to mix up the rush, and bring plenty of heat, in its attempts to control Tebow. Cooper and Hernandez are not Percy Harvin from 2008, so the “X-Factor” player is not an option for Florida.
The Bearcats are weakest against runs inside the tackles, which explains why a Safety will cheat up. Florida won’t run straight up the middle, but should use a play action (the Tebow stutter-step), that could freeze the defense just long enough for him to find someone 10-15 yards down the field. Tebow will get his shots in his last game as a Florida Gator.
On an extra note, don’t expect the Urban Meyer situation to affect either team. While it will be discussed at length during the game, the focus will be on the action on the field.
The Prediction : Florida has playmakers on defense that Pike hasn’t seen all year, and Tebow shines in his last game. Florida wins 31-20.