Belk Bowl Primer: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
By Kevin Smith
North Carolina has plenty to prove after a down but up season in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels started on a rough and winding road, and along with their starting quarterback Bryn Renner going down with an injury, all seemed lost.
A legitimate home-field advantage in the Belk Bowl (which is located in Charlotte, N.C.) should serve well for a UNC squad that finished 6-6 and barely squeezed out a bowl bid.
As for Cincinnati, their mission is to solidify as a powerhouse in the fresh and first-year American Athletic Conference. A familiar face in the Belk Bowl, the Bearcats beat another ACC team, Duke in the bowl last season, 48-34.
Motivation: After a heartbreaking 27-25 loss to rival Duke on Nov. 30, the Tar Heels may very well enter the bowl with a chip on their shoulder. In a season where they started 1-5 and lost a senior starting quarterback, the outlook turned around quickly. Backup quarterback Marquise Williams stepped in to help bring his squad to new heights and picked up where Renner left off midseason as UNC went on to win five of their last six games.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Keep an eye on UNC’s two big targets: Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis. Ebron, a first-team All-American tight end, all-ACC, and potentially high NFL draft pick, led the team in catches (55) and receiving yards (895). Davis snatched touchdown catches for UNC at critical moments. The sophomore wide receiver was second on the team with 724 receiving yards and led in touchdown catches (10).
Weakness: The running game could hurt them in the game down the stretch. It’s saying something when Williams leads the team in rushing yards (490). Again, he started the season as the backup quarterback and averages a full yard per carry less than starting running back T.J. Logan (5.8 yards per carry). There’s only so much Williams can do in critical situations and running the quarterback won’t always be the game plan.
Motivation: The Bearcats started their season 2-2 and lost their starting quarterback Munchie Legaux to an injury in the second game. Things went from worrisome to positive as Cincinnati won six straight in the middle of the season and second string quarterback Brendon Kay stepped in to save the day. Also, playing in the Belk Bowl and beating an ACC team is nothing new to this team.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Keep an eye out for Kay. His numbers are impressive this season: 3,121 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes. Kay is the fourth quarterback in Cincinnati history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a single season. One of Kay’s many wideout targets is Anthony McClung, who leads the team in receiving yards (908) and is second in catches (68).
Weakness: Playing in North Carolina’s home state could be a problem for the Bearcats. Then again, they overcame the home turf last season. Also, even though Kay has been a blessing for his team this season, he threw seven interceptions in his last five games. He had two costly picks in an overtime loss to Louisville, 31-24, on Dec. 5.