Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 12/20/12
Key matchup Duke quarterback Sean Renfree will be up against a Cincinnati defense that hasnt exactly been stingy but at times has created problems for opposing quarterbacks, and this matchup is the key to the outcome of the Belk Bowl. Duke doesnt run the ball well, its a pass-based offense, and Renfree has been terrific this season competing 66.3 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards, 18 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He has three excellent targets, led by Conner Vernon, the ACCs all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. Vernon has 75 receptions for 955 yards and seven touchdowns this season Sophomore Jamison Crowder (70 receptions, 1,025 yards, eight scores) and Desmond Scott (61 catches, 606 yards and two touchdowns) complete the trio. Cincinnati, however, is first in the Big East and 29th in the nation with 31 sacks (Duke allowed just 19) and the Bearcats picked off 14 passes. Cincinnati has the top pass defense efficiency in the Big East, but its seventh in overall pass defense, including 72nd nationally. Renfree was a key signee for Duke. He was highly-regarded in high school and could have gone anywhere. Duke coach David Cutcliffe wants him to go out with a bang. Player to Watch If Duke has success moving the ball through the air, Cincinnati might go a more conventional route to slow down the pace of the game while speeding up the clock, and thats by using talented tailback George Winn as the Bearcats main weapon. The Bearcats average 231 yards per game through the air, but Winn has provided them balance, which could bode well for the Big East team if the weather in Charlotte, N.C., plays a role in the game. Winn has run for 100 yards or more in five games this season and comes into this affair with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Defensively, Duke has struggled against the run for decades, and even in this rare successful season, the Blue Devils still couldnt stop many teams on the ground. Cincinnatis running attack is ranked 31st in the nation averaging just under 200 yards per outing, but Dukes run defense is 103rd in the nation allowing the same number of yards. Winn, who has scored eight of his 12 touchdowns in the last five games, isnt much of a threat catching the ball, as he has just 12 receptions on the season. Final Analysis The only common opponent each team played is Virginia Tech. Cincinnati beat the Hokies in Landover, Md., which was basically a home game for Virginia Tech, and the Blue Devils were routed in Blacksburg after opening with a 20-0 lead. The Bearcats won four of their last five games allowing only 14 points per game, while Duke dropped its last four contests allowing an average of 50 points per game in the process. Cincinnati lost its coach and may not be fired up to play a Blue Devils program that traditionally struggles, and Duke, on the other hand, may treat this like one of the biggest games in program history. It will have the fans on its side, too. The Pick: Cincinnati, 37-27.
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