Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0) vs. Florida Gators (12-1)
A couple of votes here or there earlier in the season, or more help from the computers, and we could have easily been talking about Cincinnati playing in the National Championship Game. But the BCS conspired against those hopes for the undefeated Bearcats and the Big East champs were instead rewarded with a Sugar Bowl bid against an equally disappointed Florida Gators squad.
On a 22-game winning streak, the Gators faltered in the most important game of their season — the SEC Championship Game — and were unable to continue their run at back-to-back championships. However, Tim Tebow and the senior class will want to end their season on a high note in New Orleans.
The Big East isn’t supposed to be a power conference, but the Bearcats were about as powerful as they came this season in terms of offensive output, and a victory here might do wonders for the Big East moving forward. Lets get into the meat of the preview:
Offense: The quarterback duo of Zach Collaros and Tony Pike together headed the Big East’s most productive offense — their output was so prolific that many suggested the two be entered for Heisman contention as on entity, saying that Collaros and Pike together were more productive than any other quarterback in the nation, which isn’t far from the truth. Cincinnati can strike at any time, at any place on the field, and that quick-strike ability helped them avoid an upset on the final day of the season when they had to come back from a six-point deficit with time running out. Wide receiver/kick returner Mardy Gilyard contributes to firepower of the offense, in the mold of former Gator Percy Harvin.
Without Harvin, the Gator offense struggled a bit this season, but once again senior quarterback Tim Tebow led one of the SEC’s most prolific offensive teams. scoring less than 20 only twice. Tebow broke a bevy of SEC records in his final season including the career rushing touchdown mark. Tebow’s favorite mark, tight-end Aaron Hernandez, also helped lead the team’s offense, which averaged 442 yards per game.
Defense: Florida prides itself on its defense, led by coordinator Charlie Strong. Strong’s apparent ascension to the head coaching spot at Louisville may be a distraction for a squad that let up more than 20 points just once — in that SEC Championship Game to Alabama’s offense. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was last season’s BCS National Title Game defensive MVP was suspended for that game, and his status for the Sugar Bowl remains to be seen. The Gators certainly missed his presence against Mark Ingram, Greg McElroy and the Tide offense last weekend.
Defensive was certainly a weak spot for the Bearcats in their final regular season game, where they let freshman Pitt running back Dion Lewis run all over them as they were seemingly unable to stop the Panthers at any point during the game. In their last four games, the Bearcats have given up 44, 36, 41 and 45 points to their opponents, something they cannot do against Florida and still hope to win.
Prediction: Florida 42 vs. Cincinnati 21. Despite the fact that the Gators will be disappointed to be at the Sugar Bowl and not in the National Championship Game, coach Urban Meyer will have them fired up to face his alma mater. Tim Tebow and the Gator offense will tear up the Bearcat D, and Tony Pike’s offensive efficiency will not be enough to match the Gators score for score.