After a heart-breaking loss in overtime to #19 Louisville in the Keg of Nails, the Cincinnati Bearcats once again find themselves 9-3 and playing for more post season football. Needing to beat Lousville to earn a BCS Bowl berth, the Bearcats fell just short losing 31-24 ending any conversation of reaching those heights. The Bearcats finished 3rd in American Athletic Conference and this week they accepted a bid to play in the Belk Bowl for the second season in a row. Through the eyes of the fan, back to back Belk Bowls may not be ideal. Though it is important to know the accomplishment of making a bowl game must not be understated. It gives UC a chance to put an exclamation on the season, it shows that a program can sustain winning, bowls give more practice opportunities to underclassmen building for the future, and besides your local alley who doesn't love bowling?!
One possible match up for the Bearcats in this years Belk Bowl are the Tar Heels of North Carolina. The Belk Bowl matches the #5 team from the ACC and the #3 team from the AAC. The Heels are loaded with NFL talent led by Coach Larry Fedora, they finished 6-6 this season and 5th in the ACC Coastal Division. After starting the season 1-5, the Heels stormed back to win 5 straight before suffering a crushing loss to rival Duke last week 27-25.
The strength of this Tar Heel squad offensively lies in dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams. The 6 foot 2 sophomore leads the team in rushing yards (490), rushing TD's (6), passing TD's (14), and is second in passing yards with (1,527). The Heels are 14th in the country in total offense with an average of 485.58 yards per game and rank 23rd in passing. Williams' top target is the 6' 4" 245 lb tight end specimen Eric Ebron. The Mackey Award finalist leads the team with 895 receiving yards and is a match up nightmare for opposing defenses. According to NFL Draft Scout via CBS Sports, the all-time ACC yardage leader for a tight end is ranked number two at his position in the upcoming NFL Draft. If you haven't seen his 71 yard touchdown reception on YouTube, it is something to see. Another talented skill player is Quinshad Davis who leads the team in receiving TD's with 10. Anchoring the offensive line is First Team All-ACC tackle James Hurst. Hurst who stands 6 foot 7 is a projected second to third round pick in the NFL.
Defensively, North Carolina ranks 56th in the country giving up an average of 389 yards per game. One area the Tar Heels struggle is red zone defense giving up scores 87% of the time. A game changer to watch on this side of the ball is the pass rush specialist in defensive end Kareem Martin. Martin lives in opposing backfields with a eye opening 20 tackles for loss with 11 of those being sacks, good enough for 3rd in the ACC. The First Team All-ACC player is also an NFL talent, projected to be a late round pick. Safety Tre Boston leads the team in tackles (87) and interceptions (4).
With the possibility of Clemson getting an at large bid in a BCS bowl, look for North Carolina to move up spots in the ACC standings. With that movement, the Tar Heels would more than likely seize an opportunity to play in basically a home game in Charlotte only two hours away from Chapel Hill.
No matter the opponent, Cincinnati has a great opportunity to get the sour ending of the season out of their memories. A 9-3 mark is something to be proud of and a shot to go 10-3 makes it even better. The Bearcats have a chance to win a 3rd straight bowl game and launch into the offseason with great confidence.