CINCINNATI BEARCATS (9-3)
vs. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (6-6)
Belk Bowl - Charlotte, NC
Kickoff: Thursday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Cincinnati -7, Total: 60
Duke is making its first postseason appearance since 1995 and seeking its first bowl victory since 1961 when it stays within North Carolina to face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Thursday night.
Despite the favorable draw, the Blue Devils have allowed 42+ points in each of their past four games, all resulting in SU and ATS defeats. Cincinnati has a much richer bowl history, winning four straight non-BCS bowls, all since 2004, including a 31-24 Liberty Bowl win over Vanderbilt last year. The Bearcats have also been playing much better recently, winning four of five (SU and ATS) since November began, and allowing just 14.2 PPG during this stretch. They won't have head coach Butch Jones on the sidelines after he left for Tennessee, so Cincinnati will be led by defensive line coach Steve Stripling on Thursday.
Can Duke end its long bowl drought on Thursday? For the answer, download your FREE copy of the StatFox Edge College Bowl Guide for all the StatFox Experts picks for each of the 35 bowls, both Against The Spread and Over/Under.
Duke senior QB Sean Renfree has put together his best collegiate season with 2,755 passing yards (250 YPG), 18 TD and 8 INT. He's also coming off a career-game in the regular season finale, throwing for 432 yards, 4 TD and 0 INT in a narrow 52-45 home loss to Miami. This included a 99-yard TD pass to Jamison Crowder, the same player whose 5-yard TD grab against rival North Carolina in the final minute on Oct. 20 made the team bowl eligible. Crowder leads the team with 85 receiving YPG (3rd in ACC), while senior WR Conner Vernon averages a team-best 6.3 catches per game (4th in ACC) for the Blue Devils' 32nd-ranked passing offense (278 YPG). With this strong air attack, they don't run the football very often, gaining just 119 YPG (107th in FBS) on 3.6 YPC. Freshman RB Jela Duncan leads the team with a modest 516 rushing yards and 4 TD, failing to reach 90 rushing yards in any game this year. Despite the pass-heavy offense, they have one turnover or less in seven of their past eight games. Duke's defense still needs a lot of work, allowing 49.5 PPG and 593 total YPG during its four-game skid. For the season, the Blue Devils rank 106th in the nation in total defense (462 YPG) and 105th in FBS in scoring defense (35.0 PPG).
Cincinnati senior QB Brendon Kay has been solid since replacing Munchie Legaux, throwing for 8.5 YPA, 6 TD and 2 INT. He was 19-of-29 for 245 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT in the last game, a 34-17 win over UConn on Dec. 1. Senior TE Travis Kelce (team-high 599 rec. yds) caught both touchdowns that day and also threw a TD pass to Kay on a trick play. But this is far from a gimmick offense, as the Bearcats mostly revolve around senior RB George Winn whose 100 rushing yards per game ranks 2nd in the Big East. Winn has gained at least 70 yards on the ground in 11 of 12 games this season, and has scored 12 touchdowns, including 3 TD over the past two games. In addition to its tremendous 17.2 PPG allowed (12th in nation), Cincinnati also ranks 18th in passing efficiency defense with 14 interceptions and just 11 TD passes allowed. The return game is also strong as its 25.5 yards per kick return ranks 11th-best in the country.