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Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Florida

Here’s another argument against the BCS– If playing in one of the marquee games isn’t significant enough to keep your head coach from bolting, it’s probably not as big of a deal as you might be making it.  And this year’s Sugar Bowl qualifies as the “doesn’t anyone want to coach this thing?” match up- Rumor has it that a random ticket drawing will decide the offensive coordinators for both teams.

We're in good hands

We’re in good hands

Cincinnati (12-0, 4-4 Big East) vs. Florida (12-1, 8-1 SEC)

January 1, 2010 7:30 PM ET

Superdome, New Orleans, Louisana

OK, let’s just get this out of the way now-

Interestingly enough, this game has no meaningful connection to “Sugar” that I could find- it was simply a name chosen to represent the attempts at civic pride and tourism. This game, along with the Orange and Sun Bowls, is the second oldest in the country (behind, of course, the Rose). First played in January of 1935, the only undefeated team of the north (Temple’s Owls, coached by the legendary Pop Warner”) met the only southern team with a perfect record, the Green Wave of Tulane. The Wave won that first meeting 20-14. It has been the host for numerous national championships and (in 1956) controversy as part of an important moment in American history.

Ohio State fans will more than likely be very familiar with the Bearcats of Cincinnati. After decades languishing in the shadow of THE state institution, UC staged a thrilling game between the ‘Cats and the eventual national champions

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Following that, they found success under the leadership of several talented head coaches. First, Mark Dantonio left the Buckeyes to lead the Bearcats. Once Coach Dantonio left for the big time at Michigan State, Central Michigan’s Brian Kelley was named as the new head coach. In his tenure, Kelly built the Bearcats into a Big East power; this would have been his team’s second consecutive BCS game (they fell last year to Virginia Tech; don’t be surprised if you didn’t know that). As such, UC began marketing themselves as “Ohio’s BCS Team” and proudly representing the “bUCkeye State“.

Then stuff happened.

Their head coach bolted on them for greener pastures (sound familiar?), the offensive coordinator and interim head coach did the same, and the Bearcats went back to the well of Central Michigan. Suddenly, ‘Cat fans who were livid at their coach leaving before a bowl game didn’t seem to have as many objections about their new coach doing the same to his former team.

Behind the drama, though, is a powerful offense ranked sixth in the nation in scoring, and averaging over 460 yards per game. UC is led by the arm of quarterback Tony Pike, who has thrown for over 2500 yards in spite of missing almost four games this season. While out, backup Zach Collaros’ passing and scrambling helped keep the Bearcats undefeated. Their primary target is All-American (and Florida native) Mardy Gilyard; the receiver has over 1100 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also averaging 31.6 yards per kick return. His 381 all purpose yards and two TDs were central in holding off Pitt to win the Big East Championship:

Defensively, Andre Revels leads the Bearcats with 103 tackles and one interception. In the secondary, Aaron Webster’s 4 picks have led to over 130 return yards; he also has forced two fumbles. Alex Daniels is tops on the defense with 6.5 sacks.

Other than running the slate in the Big East, UC also defeated an Oregon State team that was in the hunt for the Rose Bowl berth. This will be their second matchup against the Gators; they lost 48-17 in 1984.

Speaking of drama- how about all the fun that’s been happening around the Swamp these days? A friend of mine who works at Florida (I know…) answered the phone “Waffle House” the other day when I called.  First, Charlie Strong left for a job leading Louisville (it’s a crime that this was his first serious opportunity, in my opinion). Then, receivers coach jumps ship to LSU. On Boxing Day, the head coach quits, only to come back on the next morning.  Strange doin’s, I reckon.

Needs a hug

Needed a hug

When last we saw St. Tebow of Gainsville, he was having a very bad day. The Heisman Trophy winner’s inability to carry his team to victory against Alabama may be the lasting image that people have of him, barring some sort of amazing game in New Orleans. While it’s true that he in no way lived up to the hype that surrounded him from ESPN and other arenas, the failures of the Gators cannot be fully laid on his shoulders.  His offensive weaponry were limited from the beginning of the year; people were able to get pressure on him and impact the successes he previously had. Then there was that whole concussion thing… Are we sure Urban didn’t lock him in a equipment shed or something afterwards?

Other than Tebow, who ended the season as the Gators’ leading rusher, running back Jeff Demps’ 7.7 yards per carry average led the ground game. When Tebow tossed the ball, it was to either Aaron Hernandez (12.5 yards per catch, 4 TDs) or Riley Cooper (17.7/8). Florida’s team this year achieved an amazing balance between air and ground: the 12th ranked offense has averaged 217 yards on the ground and 225 yards through the air.

Where the Gators excel, though, is on defense. Returning all starters from the championship team that shut down Oklahoma, Florida is currently third in the nation in points per game allowed and fifth in the nation in yards per game allowed. Their defense has 20 interceptions on the year, led by All American Joe Haden’s 4. It will be interesting to see him and safety Major Wright (seen leading with his head in the video linked above) against the Bearcat offense and Gilyard. Up front, Carlos Dunlap (remember him?) and Jermaine Cunningham have seven sacks each; four Gators have totaled more than 60 tackles on the year.  While they will certainly miss Coach Strong’s leadership; the talent and hunger are in place for this unit to redeem themselves from their failings in the SEC championship.

Who Are We Picking?

Jeff at the BBC: Florida

Mali: Florida

Jim: Florida

Eric: Florida

Vegas has this thing at almost two touchdowns for the Gators- who am I to argue? I think Florida has something to prove, that Tebow has his draft stock in mind, and that the Gators defensive speed is too much. Plus, UC has lost a head coach and a interim head coach; Florida has only lost a defensive coordinator, a receivers coach, and part of a head coach.

As always, our friends at SBN’s Alligator Army have got this thing covered. UC doesn’t seem to have any SBN bloggers willing to inform the masses and defend their honor, but there’s great coverage anyways.

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