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Belk Bowl puts spotlight on Duke football

Posted December 24, 2012

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6); Dec. 27, 6:30, ESPN

It has taken 18 long years, but Duke has finally qualified for a postseason game. It’s a momentous event, even for a university that spends most of its fan capital on the hardwood at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After coming close under head coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils became bowl-eligible with a rousing upset of rival North Carolina on Oct. 20. However, they’ve also dropped four straight games and five of their last six, a reminder of just how far the school is from being a competitor in the ACC.

Cutcliffe will use this first-ever meeting with Cincinnati to generate a higher level of interest from the area’s best recruits, and more notoriety on a national level. He and his kids are also eager to bring Duke its first bowl victory since all the way back in 1960.

Players to Watch: Cincinnati will lean heavily on the ground game. And for good reason.

Senior RB George Winn has been a pleasant surprise as the successor to Isaiah Pead, rushing for 1,204 yards and a dozen touchdowns. He’ll be running behind an unheralded line that’s especially strong on the left side, with T Eric Lefeld and G Austen Bujnoch. While Brendon Kay brought stability to quarterback midway through the year, the Bearcats won’t frighten a veteran Duke secondary through the air. Oh, and then there’s the business of a Blue Devils D yielding 4.8 yards per carry and almost 200 yards a game on the ground.

The Blue Devils have the edge behind center. They’ll need to leverage that advantage to win on Thursday in Charlotte.

QB Sean Renfree is about to cap his third year as the starter in Durham with a long-awaited bowl trip. He’s a savvy distributor, with a great feel for Cutcliffe’s system. He also has access to one of the ACC’s better receiving tandems, Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder, who’ve combined to catch 145 passes. They’ll be facing an interesting challenge this week, going up against a Cincinnati defensive backfield that’s given up only 11 touchdown passes in a dozen games.

The big story in Cincinnati this fall has been the play of the defense, which far exceeded expectations.

Although there aren’t a lot of big names on the Bearcats D, it hasn’t prevented the unit from allowing only 17 points a game. Even a potentially career-ending neck injury to DE Walter Stewart, the group’s best player, couldn’t keep it from ranking fourth nationally in red zone defense. A veteran has elevated his game at each level; DE Dan Giordano, LB Greg Blair and CB Camerron Cheatham. Blair has been particularly revelatory in his second season out of junior college, leading the team emotionally and physically with a Bearcats-best 123 stops.

Cincinnati will win if … it rushes for at least 175 yards.

Sustained drives from the Bearcats will be Duke’s undoing in its return to the postseason. The Blue Devils must get their defense off the field as quickly as possible, and their offense in a huddle formation. But that won’t happen if Winn and Ralph David Abernathy are routinely snapping off six-yard gains. Cincinnati is capable of wearing down an average Duke D, and exceeding 30 points, but only if the ground game is the catalyst. Kay has been serviceable, especially when targeting all-league TE Travis Kelce, but he’s not the kind of quarterback who’ll light up an opposing defense with his arm.

Duke will win if … Renfree plays his best game of the season.

The Blue Devils won’t run the ball with any consistency. And they can’t rely on a defense that allowed an average of 45 points a game in the second half of the regular season. Fair or not, the upset rests on the right shoulder of No. 19. Renfree has to win the battle with the Cincinnati secondary … handily. That means throwing three touchdown passes, and maximizing the talents of all of his receivers, including Crowder, Vernon, Desmond Scott and the tight ends. For Duke to earn its first bowl win in 52 years, Renfree has to walk out of Bank of America Stadium as the MVP.

What Will Happen: Duke owns the intangibles. But will that be enough to take down a more talented Cincinnati team?

The Blue Devils are geeked about being a part of the postseason for the first time in 18 years. The Bearcats, on the other hand, are in a state of flux on the sidelines. The sidebars could make the Belk Bowl more competitive, but it won’t change the fact that Cincinnati is the superior program. Duke will wind up being a little too one-dimensional for an opponent that can win a game a number of ways. Winn will rush for 100 yards, the defense will come up big and Tuberville will be handed some momentum to carry with him into spring camp.

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  • Banned by Sissies Dec 26, 7:27 p.m.

    I pull for Carolina Blue but in the scheme of the NCAA, I pull for the ACC. I am sick and tired... View More

    — Posted by LetsGetHigh

    Let's get high? with a comment like "the ACC is as strong as the SEC in fball," you must already... View More

    — Posted by uncsuckz

    High as a kite! That's some good

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again01 Dec 26, 7:24 p.m.

    Get real... Duke got lucky this year. The best team in the Divison is having to sit this one out... View More

    — Posted by CoolBlue83

    It's not that Duke got lucky. Duke didn't beat anybody worth shootin' this year. They lost to every good team they played. The only marginally good team Duke beat was Carolina, and they had to steal that one at the end.

    Duke just finally beat the six teams on their schedule that they SHOULD have beaten.

  • Dudeanonymous Dec 26, 3:51 p.m.

    Get real... Duke got lucky this year. The best team in the Divison is having to sit this one out... View More

    — Posted by CoolBlue83

    Sour grapes. unc football got everything it deserved for hiring Butch Davis. Actually, I think they got off easy.

  • CoolBlue83 Dec 26, 1:35 p.m.

    Get real... Duke got lucky this year. The best team in the Divison is having to sit this one out because of a few semi-pro's that weren't even part of this year's team. To not recognize the great job Fedora did with a team that was under fire from the get go is a slap in the face to coaches who do things the right way. The ACC is an unmitigated disaster and the fact that subpar teams go to bowls is a clear indicator that the college post-season is a joke.

  • uncsuckz Dec 26, 9:59 a.m.

    I pull for Carolina Blue but in the scheme of the NCAA, I pull for the ACC. I am sick and tired... View More

    — Posted by LetsGetHigh

    Let's get high? with a comment like "the ACC is as strong as the SEC in fball," you must already BE high. LOL. the ACC is irrelevant in fball; second tier. why else would our very best high school fball players flock to the SEC or B1G?

  • Dudeanonymous Dec 26, 7:37 a.m.

    I truly hope Duke wins, but I'm afraid they lose in a bad way. Cincy averages almost 200 yds./gm... View More

    — Posted by kornfan2448

    2 weeks ago, I would completely agree. However, Cutcliffe has made some key position changes to slow down Cincy's running game (not stop), and to give Duke better pass protection and run blocking than the last few games of the season.

    Duke has had a couple of key players to return from injury, which has made these position changes possible (Brandon Braxton & Jamal Bruce). I'm not saying that Duke will automatically win now, but I do believe it won't be a 14+ point lopsided score as I thought before.... I'm convinced this will be a tighter game than most think.

    ESPN correctly observed during the Bowl Mania show that "Cutcliffe is one of the most underrated coaches in the NCAA." Since Duke returns a large core of their players next season, he is treating this game as the beginning of the 2013 season rather than the end game of 2012.

  • Sauras69 Dec 25, 9:02 p.m.

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^My main statement was directed to letsgethigh. He wrote about the ACC vs the SEC. I was stating the fact that not many on here wrote very much anything ragarding Duke football. Durham Devil. Read all of it. I have pulled for Duke football and Coach Cut for a long time. I met the man once. I'm 24/7 reader on here. Obviously, you are counting too much. Go Hokies. Win a Bowl game. Let's go Duke. Win a Bowl game.

  • 903 mens national championships Dec 25, 8:24 p.m.

    This post tells me even more about Duke fans on here. Nothing much. It's easy to be fair... View More

    Not sure where this is coming from. Many of us have been supporting Duke football thru thick and thin even thru the Clemson, FSU, and GT part of the schedule that didn't go so well. And yes, we do show up with basketball when Coach K is winning. That part isn't too hard considering he's the winningest coach in NCAA history.

  • DurhamDevil Dec 25, 8:08 p.m.

    I have to disagree with Letsgethigh. The ACC hasn't done much in several years now in putting a... View More

    — Posted by Sauras69

    This Dukie is here 24/7 and has been for over 45 years. I support the Devils through thick and thin, year after year. Just because I don't have 18,796 posts, doesn't mean I'm not pulling for my team.

    Coach Cut said it best a few years back - there is a difference between being a "fan" and being a "supporter". Fans are there when you win, supporters are there even when you lose.

    I am so proud of the Devils this year. And I will always believe my team has a chance whenever they take the field.

    GO DEVILS!!!

  • Sauras69 Dec 25, 7:15 p.m.

    I have to disagree with Letsgethigh. The ACC hasn't done much in several years now in putting a team in the Championship game. The SEC rules with the top athletes in the Country. They have won National Championship's. Over and over. This post tells me even more about Duke fans on here. Nothing much. It's easy to be fair weather fans. They show up with basketball when Coach K is winning.

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HOU 7
12:37pm Today
TOR
BOS
 
1:05pm Today
PHI
SFG
 
1:05pm Today
NYY
TEX
 
3:35pm Today
OAK
HOU
 
7:10pm Tonight
ATL
MIA
 
8:05pm Tonight
CHC
SDP
 
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MIN
CWS
 
8:10pm Tonight
KAN
CLE
 
8:10pm Tonight
MIL
NYM
 
10:05pm Tonight
ANA
DET
 
10:10pm Tonight
SEA
BAL
 
Final
DUR 5
ROC 6
 
7:05pm Tonight
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