The favorite may have a decided advantage playing fairly close to home when the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) take on those North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6) in the Belk Bowl from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, December 28th at 3:20 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has North Carolina as a small favorite for this contest with the current line at -3 with odds of -110.
The records of these teams are very deceiving and there is a very good reason why the 6-6 Tar Heels are favored over the 9-3 Bearcats, and it is not just because this game is being played in the state of North Carolina. The Heels simply grade out better on both sides of the ball, and we could easily see their very physical defensive line led by NFL prospect Kareem Martin wreaking havoc in the Cincinnati backfield.
The Bearcats are not used to facing that kind of physicality, and remember that two of their three losses this year came to a couple of bad teams in Illinois and South Florida, a couple of clubs that the Tar Heels would be decided favorites over. Granted Cincinnati played reasonably well in its third loss, an overtime loss at home to Louisville in the regular season finale, but quarterback Brendon Kay was probably rattled more than he was all year by the Louisville front.
If Kay felt pressure that game, imagine how he will feel with a big impact lineman like Martin breathing down his neck. Martin is a defensive end that can play on either side of the line and has a quick first step that NFL scouts drool over. He led the Heels with 11 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. The North Carolina defense may have had a slow start, even allowing 55 points to East Carolina out of conference, but once it solidified the Heels won five of the last six games.
In fact North Carolina won five straight games after a 1-5 start to become bowl eligible before having that winning streak snapped with a last minute 27-25 loss to a very good Duke team in the season finale. That defeat came despite dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams, filling in for the injured Bryn Renner, rushing for 104 yards to go along with 223 passing yards, and Williams is precisely the type of quarterback that can give Cincinnati fits.
Now statistically at least, the Bearcats finished the regular season ranked 20th in the country in total offense and an amazing ninth in total defense, but the legitimacy of those rankings must be brought into question for a team that faced a very weak schedule even by the standards of the already weak AAC, as Cincinnati’s SOS ranked 120th in the country. And even with that weak slate, the Bearcats went just 6-6 ATS with the two aforementioned dubious losses.
Also the Cats did not face many dual threat quarterbacks in the AAC, and even Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who is most certainly a pass-first quarterback, had some nice long runs against them in some crucial situations, most notably on a 4th-and-16 scamper in the fourth quarter.
North Carolina has NFL prospects sprinkled across both sides of the ball led by the defensive end Martin and tight end Eric Ebron, as well as offensive tackle James Hurst and safety Tre Boston. The Heels have also faced the tougher schedule and they are playing about a 2½-hour drive away from Chapel Hill in their home state.
Add this all up and despite the 6-6 record, favored North Carolina looks like the play in the Belk Bowl.
College Football Pick: North Carolina -3 (-110)