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It's not usual that a 9-3 bowl school goes through the coaching changes that Cincinnati has gone through lately. The Bearcats lost Butch Jones, but were able to hire Tommy Tuberville just a few days later from Texas Tech. They will take on Duke, who's making their first bowl appearance since 1995, in the Belk Bowl. The question is, will the coaching change impact this game?
The Blue Devils had a nice season going for them, starting 6-2 and 3-1 in ACC play. Then their schedule started to pick up and they lost four straight games to finish out the season. Their final win of the season came in a big win over North Carolina which made them bowl eligible. That was back on Oct. 20. Other than that, they struggled against any other team with a winning record.
Cincinnati had three more wins, but they ultimately had a slightly easier schedule and didn't beat anyone of major significance. The one that stands out is a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. Duke lost to the Hokies 41-20. The Bearcats three losses were relatively close and to respectable teams, even the game at Toledo. They come in as 7-point favorites over the Blue Devils.
The Bearcats don't have an amazing offense, but that shouldn't be a problem against Duke who has given up at least 30 points in six straight games. Brandon Kay took over at quarterback four games ago and will likely be the starter for the bowl game unless Tuberville has other ideas. Cincinnati doesn't pass a ton, nor do they need to with a stout defense. In his four starts, Kay is averaging 230 passing yards per game and has five touchdowns. His only two interceptions came in the 10-3 loss to Rutgers. Most of their ground game comes through senior RB George Winn who has 1,204 yards and 12 TDs in his first year as a starter. He has eight TDs in his last five games and shouldn't have any trouble against Duke who gives up more than 200 rushing yards per game.
The Blue Devils will have to find some offensive consistency against a defense that has allowed just 17.2 points per game all season. Sean Renfree leads a pass-heavy offense that doesn't have a rusher with more than 516 yards. Renfree has posted solid numbers for the season with 2,755 yards, 18 TDs and eight INTs even with a missed game. His best game of the season came in the season finale against Miami (FL) when he threw for 432 yards and four TDs in the losing effort. Receivers Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon are the main threats through the air and have almost identical numbers. They've combined for 145 receptions, 1,980 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, the Blue Devils only have 1,428 rushing yards and a 3.6 yards per carry average as a team. This may prove to be trouble against this Bearcats defense.
Bowl games are unique. You have many different circumstances that can impact the game that you generally don't see on a week to week basis during the regular season. This game would seem to be a perfect example of that. For starters, you have the time off in between this game and the teams last games, which gives each team tons of extra prep time. Extra prep time for the Bearcats without their head coach. The coaching change can also impact the team mentally. You have players that were recruited by Butch Jones, underclassmen, who now have to deal with a new coach next year, new schemes, etc. They may not be too happy about that.
Next to consider, is motivation. For Duke, this may as well be the Super Bowl. This program hasn't played in a bowl game since 1995. Football is an afterthought at Duke. But here, for one day, they get center stage. On the flip side, it would be safe to say that the Bearcats had hopes of a more high profile game against a higher profile opponent. The potential to take Duke lightly exists here, not to mention simply being uninterested in playing in this bowl game in general. Duke should also have plenty of crowd support, being close to home.
On paper, Cincinnati is the better team. When using yards per point numbers as a parameter, they have one of the best defenses in the nation. Sure, schedule strength comes into play, but you don't achieve the numbers they have defensively without being pretty good. If this was a regular season game, we wouldn't give the Duke side a look. But this seems to be a "perfect storm" type setup here for Duke, when considering situations that normally don't come into play during the regular season. For the record, our model also likes Cincinnati by at least two touchdowns. It's rare for us to go against all of our numbers, but that's what we're going to do here. The numbers say Cinci, but this may just be a flat spot for the Bearcats. Duke +7.5
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