Belk Bowl: Can UNC save season with a win?

PHOTO: USA Today Sports

Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6)

Saturday, Dec 28th @ 3:20 PM (ESPN)

Line: UNC by 2.5

How Cincy got here: Under first year head coach Tommy Tuberville, the Bearcats had a very good season. They started 3-2 with losses at Illinois and USF but rebounded to win six straight before losing to Louisville in OT in their regular season finale. 

How UNC got here: The Tar Heels got off to a horrific start to the 2013 season. They started out 1-5 with all five losses coming to bowl bound teams (South Carolina, Georgia Tech, ECU, Virginia Tech and Miami). The Heels closed the year by winning five of six to barely gain the six wins necessary to go bowling.

For Cincy to win: The Bearcats led the American Athletic Conference in total offense and rushing yards this season. They run a balanced attack that runs 52.6% of the time so it makes sense that the Bearcats need to establish their balance early against a UNC defense that really struggled at times in 2013. On defense, the Bearcats have to limit the damage that QB Marquise Williams does with his feet. He has six rushing TDs over the last six games. If they take his legs out of the equation then they should be able to contain this Tar Heel attack.

For UNC to win: They need to get Williams comfortable early. If he gets in a rhythm, it could be a long day for the Bearcats defense. What the Heels do in the red zone on offense could be the difference in this game. In their losses, they are scoring TDs on just 47% of their red zone drives. On defense, it's all about third down for the Heels. This season they were 12th in the ACC allowing their opponent to convert on 40.82% of third downs. In losses, that number went up to 47.31%

Key Player (Cincy): Brendon Kay, QB. Kay has played a lot better at home (15 TD vs 7 INT; 73.7% completions) than he has on the road (13 TD vs 9 INT; 63.8%) and in their three losses he has struggled (4 TD vs 5 INT). The Cincinnati offensive line has done a great job of protecting Kay this season (league leading 12 sacks given up) and they need to continue to keep his jersey clean in this game, especially early. Kay's best quarter is the second quarter (13 TD passes this year) but against a Heels offense that has high scoring potential, he needs to kick it into gear early this game (in the first quarter this year he has 5 TD vs 6 INT and his lowest QB rating is in the first quarter).

Key Player (UNC): Eric Ebron, TE. Ebron is a dynamic player that is forgoing his senior season and will enter the NFL draft. Ebron has had a few big games this year (108 yds vs GT, 199 yards vs Miami, 121 yds vs Duke) but at times, Ebron kind of disappears in this offense. The Bearcats have not seen a TE like Ebron this year and he is a match-up problem for them. UNC needs to make sure Ebron is a healthy part of their gameplan.

Key Stat: Cincinnati is 1-0 all-time in the Belk Bowl (winning last season against Duke). UNC is 0-3 all-time in the Belk Bowl losing in 2004, 2008 and 2009.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.