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Belk Bowl primer: Cincinnati vs. Duke

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer

There are 35 bowl games. Here's everything you need to know about one of them.

Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3 overall, 5-2 Big East)

For the second straight season, Cincinnati finished the year as one of multiple teams tied for the Big East lead, and just like last season the Bearcats found themselves on the wrong end of the conference tie-breakers. It's the fourth time in five seasons that Cincinnati has claimed at least a share of the Big East title. However, as the Bearcats head into their bowl game, it will be without the coach who helped win two of those Big East titles as Butch Jones left to take the job at Tennessee. Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Steve Stripling will serve as the team's interim coach in the Belk Bowl.

At their best: Cincinnati started off the season 5-0, which included a 34-10 win against Pittsburgh in the season opener and a 27-24 comeback win against Virginia Tech. In the win against the Hokies, Cincinnati finished with 495 yards of offense, as quarterback Munchie Legaux threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns while completing only 45 percent of his passes. However, Legaux's 39-yard touchdown pass to Damon Julian with only 13 seconds left would prove to be the game-winner.

At their worst: Cincinnati seemed to struggle a bit against its better competition in 2012. The Bearcats played six bowl-eligible teams on the season and went 3-3. The three teams it beat (Pitt, Virginia Tech and Syracuse) are a combined 19-7. The teams it lost to (Louisville, Rutgers and Toledo) went 28-9. The low point of the year, though, would have to be the 29-23 loss to Toledo. The Bearcats went into the game 5-0 and ranked at No. 21 in the AP Poll and lost the game despite out-gaining the Rockets by 133 yards and rushing for 255 yards.

Headliner: Cincinnati has made some changes at quarterback as Brendon Kay replaced Legaux, but this is a team that's offense is centered on its ground attack, and that attack is led by running back George Winn. Winn finished the 2012 season with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound back is expected to be a late-round pick in the NFL Draft.

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Duke Blue Devils (6-6 overall, 3-5 ACC)

For the first time since 1995 when it lost to Wisconsin 35-20 in the Hall of Fame Bowl -- so long ago it was a bowl without a corporate sponsor -- the Duke Blue Devils are going bowling. Which is a feat rare enough in Durham that no matter what happens in the Belk Bowl, this season should be considered a success. However, this Duke squad isn't just showing up for the shopping spree at Belk, they're looking to finish the year with a 7-6 mark. It's one thing to get back to the bowl game, but a win here would be Duke's first bowl win since a scintillating 7-6 win over Arkansas in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

At their best: On Oct. 20, the Blue Devils knocked off in-state rival North Carolina 33-30, and while the football rivalry might not mean as much as the basketball rivlary, it was still a huge win for Duke. Not only was it the sixth win of the season clinching the bowl berth, but Duke found itself 6-2 and 3-1 in the ACC, leaving people to legitimately wonder if the Blue Devils would make their way to the ACC Championship Game.

At their worst: It was all downhill from that North Carolina win, however. Duke followed the game with expected losses to Florida State and Clemson -- by a combined score of 104-27 -- but to make matters worse, the Devils dropped their final two games of the season to Georgia Tech and Miami as well. So after starting the season 6-2 and 3-1 in the ACC, Duke stumbled to the finish line to wind up 6-6 and 3-5 in the conference.

Headliner: When Duke is playing well, it's because senior quarterback Sean Renfree is playing well. Duke finished the season ranked 32nd in the country with 277.6 yards per game passing. Renfree threw for 2,775 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year, but did throw eight interceptions. He also played much better over the first half of Duke's schedule than he did the last half, as he had completed 72 percent of his passes in his first five games, but only 62 percent over his final six games. The good news is that Renfree had his best game statistically (432 yards, four touchdowns) in the season-ending loss against Miami. If he brings that kind of production to the Belk Bowl, the projected late-round NFL Draft pick could lead his team to its first bowl win in half a century.

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What: Belk Bowl

When: Thursday, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Weird: If Cincinnati wins this game, it will be one of only four schools to pick up four bowl wins in the last five seasons. The other three schools? Oklahoma, Oregon and Alabama. That's some pretty good company.

Line: Cincinnati -9

Prediction: While it would be a nice story to see Duke pick up a bowl win in this game, I just don't see it happening. Duke is the kind of team that Cincinnati has proven it's capable of beating all season, and the Bearcats have a much better defense than the Blue Devils do. Duke's run defense, which is ranked 100th in the country as it allows 4.84 yards per carry, will turn out to be its downfall against George Winn and the Bearcats.

Cincinnati 31 Duke 14

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