Belk Bowl: Preview, Predictions, TV info

What: Belk Bowl

Who: Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 American) vs. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC)

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Where: Bank of America Stadium (73,778), Charlotte, N.C.

Opening Line: North Carolina -3.5

What matters: Cincinnati is bowling for seventh time in eight years, and first-year coach Tommy Tuberville has led the Bearcats back to the Belk Bowl after falling one game shy of the inaugural American Athletic Conference title despite losing starting quarterback Munchie Legaux to a season-ending injury in early September. North Carolina got off to a 1-5 start and lost Bryn Renner to a season-ending injury, but the Tar Heels won five straight to become bowl eligible for the firs time under Larry Fedora.

Who matters: North Carolina's offense is paced by dual threat quarterback Maquise Williams and NFL-bound tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron, a Mackey Award finalist, totaled 895 yards on 55 catches for the Tar Heels, leading all ACC tight ends in both categories. Cincinnati's greatest strength is arguably its Top 10 defense, led by Greg Blair and Silverberry Mouhon. The Bearcats rank No. 12 nationally in yards per play (4.81), though only two of their FBS opponents finished the regular season with a winning record. 

Matchup question: Which team will have more explosion plays? Neither team has been outstanding in any one phase of the game, but both have plenty of electric playmakers capable of scoring quickly. Cincinnati finds plenty of ways to get wide receiver Shaq Washington and running back Ralph David Abernathy IV the ball in space, while North Carolina has benefited from the emergence of freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who tied the ACC single-season record for punt returns touchdowns (4) in three games.

Prediction: Cincinnati was able to overcome a late deficit to knock off Duke in this game last season, but North Carolina, thanks to a tougher schedule, will be ready for the Bearcats and avoid the same fate as the Tar Heels' Tobacco Road rivals. North Carolina 29, Cincinnati 24

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CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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