After an up and down season, the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4 ACC) are set to finish their season against the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, 6-2 AAC) in the Belk Bowl on Saturday, December 28th at 3:20p.m. ET (ESPN).
Halfway through the season, UNC was 1-5 and coming off a devastating home loss to Miami on national television. Since then however, the Tar Heels have been on a roll offensively, winning five of their last six games to become bowl eligible. The Bearcats, on the other hand, had a relatively stable season as they never lost two games in a row and ultimately finished third in the American Athletic Conference.
When selecting teams for the Belk Bowl, the representatives from the bowl had to like the offensive firepower both teams will bring to Charlotte, NC. The Tar Heels average 32.2 points and over 430 yards of offense per game, compared to the Bearcats who average 33.3 points and over 480 yards of total offense per game.
Cincinnati is led by sixth-year senior quarterback Brendon Kay, who has thrown for 3,121 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Kay and the passing attack is helped by the balanced running game that the Bearcats boast. Three players, led by junior running back Hosey Williams, have each carried the ball at least 90 times for Cincinnati and gained at least 400 yards. As a team, Cincinnati has thrown for 28 touchdowns, while rushing for 26.
This balanced attack by the Bearcats will surely be a test for UNC, who has been inconsistent throughout the season on defense. However, if there is one bright spot for the Carolina defense, it is that they have only given up more than 20 points twice in the last six games of the season, after letting up at least 20 points in every game during their first six contests.
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North Carolina had an experienced quarterback at one point in the season as well, before fifth-year senior Bryn Renner injured his shoulder and had to have surgery causing him to sit out the remainder of the season. In came backup quarterback Marquise Williams who has performed brilliantly for a first-time starter.
Williams is a dual-threat quarterback from Charlotte, and actually leads the Tar Heels in rushing with 490 yards and six touchdowns. Although he is not as strong of a passer as Renner was, he still averages over 8.3 yards an attempt and has thrown for 14 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions.
The key for Williams and the offense has been explosive plays in the passing game. Carolina has a plethora of weapons on the outside; including junior tight end Eric Ebron, who has already declared early for the upcoming NFL draft. Ebron was a Mackey Award finalist, an award given to the best tight end in the country, and is the leading receiver for the Tar Heels with 55 catches for 895 yards – over 16 yards per catch.
In all, North Carolina has 12 players who average more than ten yards per catch, including their top six receivers. Cincinnati must limit Carolina’s big plays and make the Tar Heels slowly drive down the field if they want to be successful stopping UNC.
The betting line on this game has North Carolina favored by 3 points, and considering the game is in the Tar Heel State, this line seems about right. Expect a high-scoring affair between these two teams that are known for their offenses. I also think the game will be relatively close throughout; however, I think the North Carolina offense makes one too many explosive plays for Cincinnati to keep up.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 39, Cincinnati 34
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