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Belk Bowl Preview: Cincinnati, Duke, and Tennessee Ties

The bowl game in Charlotte is one that feels like it should have "Rocky Top" playing during timeouts.


Belk Bowl, Thursday, December 27, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why it exists: Because the people of Charlotte built a nice football stadium, but sometimes they want to see someone other than the Panthers playing in it from time to time.

The teams: Cincinnati and Duke

How Cincinnati got here: The Bearcats finished as a part of the four-way tie atop the Big East with a 5-2 league record. Their only losses in conference were to Louisville (in overtime) and Rutgers, the teams that played each other for the Big East crown on the last weekend of the regular season. A single non-conference loss to Toledo (whoops) meant that they need to win this game to hit the 10-win plateau. This was the fourth time in the past five seasons that Cincy shared or outright won the Big East, and for the second time in that span, the head coach left for greener pastures. Butch Jones took over at Tennessee, leaving a vacuum that Tommy Tuberville would swoop in to fill.

How Duke got here: I'm not sure if it's right to say that David Cutcliffe has done a good job of "rebuilding" in Durham, as this is only the program's third bowl since it fell off the map in the early '60s. Linguistics aside, the former Tennessee offensive coordinator has reinvigorated the program in a way that would make Rich Brooks proud. His Blue Devils had only one tough non-conference game, a bad beatdown at the hands of Stanford, generating wins against the likes of FIU, North Carolina Central, and Memphis. He also beat three ACC teams, two of which combined for five ACC wins, before getting his bowl clinching victory against rival UNC. This team isn't very good, and that win over the Tar Heels is the only one worth bragging about. Doesn't matter. This season is a success for the program and an illustration of why the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility can be a good thing. It's kind of cool seeing Duke make a bowl.

College football fans care because: Truth be told, they probably don't, as "ACC vs. Big East" typically elicits eye rolls and yawns. However, the novelty factor of Duke in a bowl might be enough to pique some interests. And, if Cincy shows up not caring because the head coach left, it could be a close game. Probably not a good game, but a close one nonetheless.

SEC fans care because: It's Cutcliffe versus the new Tennessee head coach's former team.

Watch this game if...: You want to be able to tell future generations that you saw Duke play football in December.

cocknfire's pick: Cincinnati 25, Duke 23

The line: Cincinnati -8