2012 Belk Bowl Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

On Thursday, December 23, the Cincinnati Bearcats will take on the Duke Blue Devils in the Belk Bowl. Duke, though a much-improved football program this year, faces a stiff test against the Bearcats, who have won 10 or more games in five out of the past seven seasons. “Duke has made great strides this season and we are very proud to have them representing the ACC against the co-champions of the Big East,” said Will Webb, executive director of the Belk Bowl. “We feel that the Blue Devils will provide a good matchup against the Bearcats in Charlotte. We look forward to hosting both Duke and Cincinnati, and their fans, for the 2012 Belk Bowl and all the surrounding events.”

The Blue Devils finished 6-6 this year while the Bearcats finished 9-3. Duke is a touchdown underdog in this game. Cincinnati is projected to win by anywhere from a touchdown to ten points, but if Duke can regain their early season form, they could easily pull out a W. Duke started 6-2 this season, and head coach David Cutcliffe earned ACC Coach of the Year honors for his team’s above-typical performance for the small, basketball-oriented school. The Duke defense, however, collapsed down the stretch. They gave up an average of 35 points per game this season, and during their four game free fall at the end of the year, they gave up a staggering 49.5 points per game and 593.3 yards. They allowed 261.8 passing yards per game, not a good sign against a Bearcats team that can score, and score quickly. Per SportsChatPlace.com, Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall and 6-2 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games. Duke is 5-1 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games and 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games against a team with a winning record.

Duke may fall prey to the dreaded “we’re just happy to be here” bowl game syndrome, while the Bearcats will come out hungry to prove they’re the Big East’s elite.

“I could not be more excited for our players – especially the seniors – to earn a berth in the Belk Bowl against a very good and well-coached Cincinnati team,” Cutcliffe said.  “I thought coming out of spring practice that we had a chance to be a good team – a bowl-caliber team.  We battled through some adversity, received tremendous leadership from our captains and reached the goal of playing in the postseason.  This is a great opportunity for our seniors to end the season on a winning note. For our returning players, it is going to be a chance to gain invaluable experience and practice opportunity as we continue to grow as a program.”

Indeed, Duke’s program has reason for optimism. When the team started 6-2, they gave Cutcliffe an extension as head coach through 2018.

“Without question, we have already made great discernible progress since David’s arrival,” Duke athletic director Kevin White said in a statement.  “However, as we assess our future — based on prospect evaluations, ongoing recruitment activity and player development — we are extremely excited, if not euphoric!  To be sure, ‘Coach Cut’ represents just a great fit at Duke.  David and the staff have done an exemplary job of leading the program, while subscribing to the highest intuitional ideals, both academically and athletically.”

All told, Cincinnati does too a job of keeping their quarterback upright, and the Blue Devils pass rush hasn’t been able to get to the QB all year. That’s going to be the difference in this one. Take the Bearcats at -7.

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