Brendon Kay. If you watched the game, this one is a no-brainer. Kay was the best player on the field Thursday night by a long shot. The senior quarterback, who will be returning next season for a sixth year of eligibility, finished 17 of 25 passing for 332 yards and four touchdowns, including the game winning, 83-yard strike to Travis Kelce with a little under one minute to play. It was a coming out party of shorts for Kay, as he has been the starter for the past five games, but none with the national attention a bowl game provides. And Kay did not disappoint. All of his touchdown passes were passes of 25 yards or longer, showing the confidence this coaching staff has in Kay to chuck it around the field. An overlooked part of Kay's game is his running ability. While he's not the athlete Munchie Legaux is, Kay has shown he has more than adequate athleticism to move around in the pocket and make plays when pass protection breaks down, he finished with 10 rushes for 76 yards. With Tommy Tuberville taking over head coaching duties next season, I expect Kay to continue to build on the success he has gained at the end of his 2012 season.
Top Offensive Player
Travis Kelce. This was a much tougher decision. The Bearcats boasted a trio of incredible offensive performances against Duke, including 130 rushing yards from George Winn, 110 receiving yards from Anthony McClung, and the game-winning, 83-yard touchdown reception by Travis Kelce. In the end, I had to go with the player who made the biggest play of the night in Kelce. The senior tight end has had a renaissance of a season during the last six games, becoming Brendon Kay's favorite target and finishing his Cincinnati career as an first team all Big-East performer. Against Duke, Kelce was at it again, finishing with a team leading five receptions for 123 yards and the game winning touchdown reception. Take away the 83-yard reception and you have four catches for 40 yards, not great numbers, but the Duke defense did a good job of focusing much of their coverage on big number 18. However, Kelce kept at it, and the hard work paid off when he broke free up the middle of the field for the game-winning touchdown. Not a bad way to end your college career.
Top Defensive Player
Greg Blair. The fact that Cincinnati was granted an extra year of eligibility for both Brendon Kay AND Greg Blair has Bearcat fans excited for the 2013 campaign. And Blair used the Belk Bowl to prove to the country, once again, that he is one of the top linebackers in the nation. Blair finished with 15 tackles, including six solo, as well as half a tackle for loss and one forced fumble. This was the kind of all around game we've come to expect from Blair, who went from a junior college transfer unknown, to the best player on an ever-improving Cincinnati defense. Blair was all over the field, making stops in the backfield, chasing down running backs, and having the game-saving forced fumble when Duke had the ball first and goal on UC's one-yard line. With the growth of Blair, this defense will have a proven leader to turn to during the 2013 season.