Saturday, December 28: Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC at 3:20 pm EST
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6)
These teams have similar offenses, with the same quality running and passing games, and both teams are starting their 2nd string quarterback having lost their starter earlier in the year.
Vegas line/spread: North Carolina by 2 1/2 (over/under 56.5)
North Carolina was favored by 3 over the Bearcats early, and 2 1/2 before game day.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
North Carolina outranks Cincinnati pretty significantly in the Strength power rating (#39 to #56) and in addition to that we're giving them partial home field advantage for playing nearby in Charlotte. Those factors make the game-comparisons lean heavily toward the Tar Heels. Interestingly, a simple comparison (12 games vs. 12 games) yields a result much more favorable to Cincinnati (UNC wins just 57%, and 51% per the spread) than does cross-comparing offenses and defenses (144 x 144 comparisons). Either way, though, the Tar Heels have the edge.
Strength power rating: North Carolina 32, Cincinnati 24 by Median rating: UNC 29-27
Cincinnati scoring offense: #58 vs. North Carolina scoring defense: #39
Cincinnati scoring defense: #53 vs. North Carolina scoring offense: #41
With almost 3 points added for home field, the Tar Heels are an 8-point favorite per the Strength power rating, as they outrate the Bearcats in both offense and defense slightly. Note that by median game performance Cincinnati actually ranks higher before HFA is applied; this is essentially because North Carolina is a more "random" team.
Yardage analysis: Cincinnati 33, North Carolina 29 per-play: North Carolina 31-28
Yardage differential: Cincinnati #36 vs. North Carolina #48
Cincinnati total offense: #31 vs. North Carolina total defense: #62
Cincinnati total defense: #44 vs. North Carolina total offense: #39
By yardage from scrimmage (corrected for schedule) and yardage alone, Cincinnati comes out on top. The teams' defenses rank about the same, but Cincy's offense is far superior that UNC's in gaining yardage. Given this, we'd expect Cincinnati to outgain the Tar Heels roughly 440 to 420 yards; converted to a score estimate, Cincy is a 4-point favorite here.
On a per-play rather than per-game basis, North Carolina retakes the lead, as they are expected to have a very slim advantage in yards per carry and yards per attempt.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Cincinnati 29, North Carolina 29
- Interceptions: Cincinnati has an interceptions problem, and North Carolina could take advantage. The expected value of that advantage is over 3 points.
- Forced fumbles: Neither team has a major fumbles problem but UNC again has a slight advantage here, equal to around a point.
- Sacks: The sacks expectation is pretty equivalent; both teams might have fewer than average.
- Red zone%: Both teams might have below-average red zone performance, as both teams have very good red zone defense. We dock Cincinnati nearly 4 points and North Carolina just over a point.
- 3rd-down%: Cincinnati should be better on 3rd downs overall; we give them almost 2 points, and deduct about a point from North Carolina.
- Special Teams: ESPN's FPI ratings show Cincinnati as the #100 special teams in the country, and North Carolina #101. Both lose 1.5 points. The Bearcats are below average on punt returns and abysmal on field goals (6 of 15 this season). North Carolina ranks poorly despite having Ryan Switzer who has returned 4 punts for touchdowns, but we trust the rankings are put together intelligently :)
Summary: After adjustments, North Carolina comes out ahead by about 2/10 of a point, pointing to an overtime win, perhaps. Essentially, it's a tossup. Remember we gave UNC home field advantage, and if you take that away Cincy still wins.
When Cincinnati has the ball
|Cincinnati rushing offense: #74
||North Carolina rushing defense: #73
Cincy used three main rushers and Hosey Williams ended up #1 with 609 yards. North Carolina's rushing defense ranks about the same—below average—so it's a fair matchup. Cincinnati should gain around 150 yards or so.
|Cincinnati passing offense: #20||North Carolina passing defense: #43 per att: #51|
|Cincinnati interceptions thrown ranking: #113||North Carolina interceptions picked ranking: #51|
|Cincinnati quarterback protection rank: #26||North Carolina pass rush rank: #39|
Brendon Kay took over early for the injured Munchie Legaux and has passed for over 3,000 yards with 22 touchdowns. The top receivers are Anthony McClung with 908 yards, Shaq Washington with 749, and Chris Moore with 599 (9 TDs). North Carolina's pass defense isn't particularly great and they'll probably give up about 280 yards.
Cincinnati has had an interception problem this year, but Kay has thrown just 11 picks in 358 attempts which isn't bad. Legaux threw 3 in just 51, and the team has 2 other interceptions so it looks worse than it really is with Kay behind center. Quarterback protection is pretty solid.
When North Carolina has the ball
|North Carolina rushing offense: #77
||Cincinnati rushing defense: #49
Like Cincinnati, North Carolina is not a run-based team; they don't even have a back over 500 yards as quarterback Marquise Williams leads with 490. Freshman TJ Logan is first among running backs with 456 yards. They should expect to gain around 135 yards in the bowl game.
We should take a closer look at Cincinnati's rushing defense. In raw terms, they rank a stellar #5 in the nation, allowing just 99 yards per game. But look at their schedule: the teams they held to 100 or fewer yards are Purdue (#124 out of 125 teams in raw yardage), Northwestern State (FCS), Miami Ohio (#116), Connecticut (#121), Memphis (#94), SMU (#118), and Houston (#93). When corrected for this schedule laden with teams that either pass all the time or just plain can't run the ball, Cincy is just barely above average at #49. It's a great example of how a national ranking is meaningless unless it is corrected for a team's opponents.
|North Carolina passing offense: #26||Cincinnati passing defense: #47 per att: #58|
|North Carolina interceptions thrown ranking: #39||Cincinnati interceptions picked ranking: #63|
|North Carolina quarterback protection rank: #39||Cincinnati pass rush rank: #61|
Like Cincinnati, North Carolina isn't starting the quarterback who began the year at the helm, as Bryn Renner was lost mid-way through the season. He had 1,765 yards at the time, 10 TDs and 5 interceptions. Since taking over, Marquise Williams has amassed 1,527 yards, 14 TDs, and 6 interceptions. Tight end Eric Ebron (895 yards) and WR Quinshad Davis (724, 10 TDs) are the top receivers. Just as the teams have similar passing offenses, Cincinnati's pass defense is similar to UNC's and the Tar Heels should also have around 280 yards.
UNC is good but not great at avoiding interceptions and sacks, and it changes depending on the quarterback. Williams is a bit more pick-prone but it's close, and he definitely avoids getting sacked better than Renner, 5 times vs. 16 times, another reason why the game should feature few sacks. Cincy's pass rush ranking (#61) contrasts with their raw sack total of 35 (#12 in the nation) since their easy schedule features teams with very bad quarterback protection.
Cincinnati's season (9-3)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (2)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (3) to losing teams (2)
- Purdue W 42- 7
- @ Illinois L 17-45
- Northwestern St W 66- 9
- @ Miami OH W 14- 0
- @ South Florida L 20-26
- Temple W 38-20
- Connecticut W 41-16
- @ Memphis W 34-21
- SMU W 28-25
- @ Rutgers W 52-17
- @ Houston W 24-17
- #18 Louisville L 24-31 OT
We've said it a couple of times and we will repeat: Cincinnati played a VERY easy schedule this season, and that's a big reason why they went 9-3. Only three teams on their schedule ranked better than #100 in our All-Division Strength power rating, and that includes #75 Illinois who went 4-8.
Cincinnati tried to make a statement with their 42-7 game one win over Purdue, but had to retract it after losing to Illinois 45-17. After two more wins they fell to South Florida, 20-26, their 2nd loss to a losing team; that game followed the tragic loss of offensive lineman Ben Flick in a car accident. After that one game of grieving, Cincy may have been inspired—or they just had an easy schedule, as they beat four more losing teams to stand 7-2.
But their run continued as they defeated Rutgers and Houston, both bowl teams, both on the road. Finally it came to an end against Louisville in overtime. Their schedule was certainly easy but they played three of their best games against their bowl-bound opponents.
North Carolina's season (6-6)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (6) to losing teams (0)
- @ #9 South Carolina L 10-27
- M. Tennessee St W 40-20
- @ Georgia Tech L 20-28
- East Carolina L 31-55
- @ Virginia Tech L 17-27
- Miami FL L 23-27
- Boston College W 34-10
- @ North Carolina St W 27-19
- Virginia W 45-14
- @ Pittsburgh W 34-27
- Old Dominion W 80-20
- #24 Duke L 25-27
North Carolina played a much tougher schedule than Cincinnati; in fact, only one team on their slate ranked worse than #100 (Old Dominion) and 9 of the 12 are bowl-bound.
The year didn't look promising at mid-season as North Carolina started 1-5, beating only MTSU 40-20 while losing to South Carolina, East Carolina, and three ACC foes. But they turned things around starting with the 34-10 win over Boston College, and four games later they became bowl-eligible with a ridiculous 80-20 win vs. Old Dominion who is transitioning to the FBS. They fell to ACC runner-up Duke in a very close game to finish 6-6.
Cincinnati will be missing offensive linemen Sam Longo and Austen Bujnoch, but quarterback Brendon Kay is probable to play after suffering an injury vs. Louisville. For North Carolina, leading receiver Eric Ebron (TE) is listed as questionable as is #3 RB AJ Blue.
Psychology/Motivation - Some (unscientific) factors that may come into play during the game:
- Cincinnati's season: +0 wins; North Carolina's season: -2 wins
- Cincinnati's momentum: +1 wins; North Carolina's momentum: +4 wins
- Cincinnati won final game: NO; North Carolina won final game: NO
- Cincinnati glad to be there? probably; North Carolina glad to be there: probably
- Cincinnati time zones from home: 0; North Carolina time zones from home: 0;
- Cincinnati coaching situation: stable; North Carolina coaching situation: stable
Cincinnati had another 9 win season, their sixth in the last 7 years, while North Carolina dropped from 8-4 to 6-6. They're probably glad to being going to a bowl, however, since last year they were on probation. Cincinnati went to the same bowl last year and had some hope of a BCS bowl even late in the season, but that was a small hope as they didn't play Central Florida.
One thing we must note is momentum: North Carolina definitely has some after starting 1-5 and finishing 5-1. Cincinnati also had a long winning streak, and both teams lost their lost game narrowly to at least partially disrupt that momentum.
Only three teams on Cincinnati's schedule are going to a bowl game; only three teams on North Carolina's are not. That's the difference in competition that each team has faced.
Cincinati has basically played just two teams on or above North Carolina's level: Houston and Louisville. They beat the Cougars 24-17 on the road, then lost to the Cardinals 31-24 in overtime at home. The Tar Heels have faced 8 teams as good or better than Cincinnati; they were 2-6, losing to all the teams ranked higher than the Bearcats and beating all the lower-ranked ones.
Cincinnati did lose to two inferior teams, but that was early in the season, before their team drew inspiration from the car crash involving several players. They've played 5 or 6 points better since then, which could cut our spread down to two points for the Tar Heels.
But if we cherry-pick for the Bearcats we should do the same for the Tar Heels; since their winning streak started they've been 6 points better, too. Do we restore the estimate to 8 points? Keep it at 2?
We'll split the difference. Given the teams' schedules we have to think North Carolina is better prepared to face another bowl team, and also a little bit hungrier after not going to a bowl game last year.
Prediction: North Carolina 28, Cincinnati 23
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2013-2014 bowl game schedule.