On the other side, the University of North Carolina (6-6) look to cap off their season with a meaningful bowl victory after an abysmal 1-5 start to their season under second-year head coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels are just the sixth team since the regular season expanded to 12 games in 2006 to start 1-5 and make a bowl game.
When it comes to the paths of both the Bearcats and the Tar Heels to the Belk Bowl, they're quite identical. Both teams had some early season struggles. Both made midseason changes at quarterback (Renner --> Williams and Legaux --> Kay). Both went on big runs during the middle of the year, picking up steam to go on long winning streaks. And then both lost close games in their regular-season finales to longtime rivals.
In the second game of the season on the road against the Fighting Illini of Illinois, previous starter at quarterback for Cincinnati Munchie Legaux suffered a gruesome knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Under the leadership of Brendon Kay despite not being 100 percent healthy for the majority of the season, the Bearcats went 8-2 down the stretch with Kay under center. Along with Kay as quarterback, the offensive side of the ball has packed a powerful punch with the Bearcats outscoring their opponents by 166 points during the regular season. Cincinnati ranks 20th in the nation in total offense (482.3 ypg) and possesses the 15th ranked passing offense (313.8 ypg) and 67th ranked rushing offense (168.5 ypg). The potent scoring attack averages 33.3 points per game and helped Cincinnati finish third in the AAC this season.
For the Tar Heels, Bryn "The Gunner" Renner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against their rivals the Wolfpack of North Carolina. Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams took over for the team and as the full-time starter for the Tar Heels, he went 4-1 at the helm and had his peak game against Old Dominion, throwing for 409 yards and five touchdowns. The Tar Heels boasts a decent offense (432.4 ypg) ranking 44th in the nation, the rushing offense (146.2 ypg) ranking 85th in the country, and the passing game (286.3 ypg) ranking 23rd in the country. The push from North Carolina's offense down the stretch of the season played a large part in the Tar Heels finishing the regular season on a 5-1 run.
Players To Watch
Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams should be one to keep an eye on. Since taking over for Bryn Renner full-time, he has thrown for 990 yards, and eight touchdowns. Williams also leads the team in rushing yards (490) and rushing touchdowns (6). Although the Bearcats' rushing defense is ranked 5th in the country (98.7 ypg), it has been evident that they have struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season in losses to Illinois with Nathan Scheelhaase and to Louisville with Teddy Bridgewater. So it will be interesting to see how the Bearcats defend against Williams.
No matter who has been at quarterback for the Tar Heels, the most popular target has been Eric Ebron, a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end. Ebron has already informed his team that he will be declaring for the NFL Draft after the Belk Bowl. He leads the team in receptions (55) and receiving yards (895) and looks to break out for his last game as a Tar Heel. But that will be a daunting task against a Bearcat passing defense (214.5 ypg) ranked 30th in the nation.
North Carolina is 2-0 all-time against Cincinnati, with the last meeting a 51-16 victory Sept. 14, 1991, in Chapel Hill.