2010 BCS Bowl Preview: 5 Things to Watch for in the Sugar Bowl

No. 3 Cincinnati will try to put Brian Kelly’s departure to Notre Dame behind it when it takes on No. 5 Florida at 8:30PM ET on New Year’s Day. As part of our 2010 BCS Bowl Preview, here are five things to watch for in the Sugar Bowl.

1. Cincinnati’s potent passing attack vs. Florida’s vaunted defense
Led by quarterback Tony Pike and explosive receiver Mardy Gilyard, the Bearcats rank sixth in the nation in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense. Cincinnati averaged almost 40 points per game this season and houses one of the most deadly passing games in the country. That said, they’ll be heavily tested by a Florida defense that has the third best pass defense in the nation, the fourth best overall defense and the third best scoring defense. Only Alabama (11.0) and Nebraska (11.23) have allowed fewer points than Florida’s mark of 11.54. Led by defensive backs Joe Haden, A.J. Jones and Major Wright, the Gators have virtually been impossible to throw on. Making matters worse for opponents, Florida also has a fearsome pass rush, led by defensive linemen Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap. At the center is linebacker Brandon Spikes, who is the heart and soul of the Gators’ defense. Cincinnati will certainly have to earn everything it gets come New Year’s Day.

2. The Gators’ rushing attack vs. the Bearcats’ suspect run defense
Florida boasts the 10th best rushing attack in the nation, averaging 225.23 yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for a Cincinnati run defense that is surrendering over 140 yards per game this season. The Bearcats’ defense is fast and aggressive, but struggles when opponents attack them right up the middle. In their three closest games this season, Connecticut, West Virginia and Pittsburgh all had success running up the gut. If Florida starts pounding the rock up the middle, it could take control of the game early by grinding out the clock and keeping Cincinnati’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.

3. Can the Gators keep pace in a shootout?
The general consensus surrounding this game is that Florida’s defense will shut down Pike and Cincinnati’s offense and seize control with its running game. But what if Pike and the Bearcats move the ball with success and start lighting up the scoreboard? Can the Gators keep up? Florida’s offense has lacked explosion all season, which was evident in its loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. When Tim Tebow isn’t superman, the Gators are a very average offense. There’s a good chance that Florida can control this game on the ground but if it can’t, then the Gators might flounder without the big play.

4. How will the Bearcats cope without Kelly?
On December 10, Brian Kelly announced that he would sign a deal to replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Needless to say, his former players at Cincinnati felt shocked and betrayed by the news, and who could blame them? In less than a month, they would have to take on the defending champion Florida Gators without a head coach. How will they cope? Can they get up for the game or will Kelly’s departure be too big of a distraction? If the Bearcats need inspiration, they should look no further than the 2007 West Virginia team, which was ditched by then head coach Rich Rodriguez after he accepted a job at Michigan. Many thought that the Mountaineers (led by interim coach Bill Stewart) would be crushed by Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, yet WVU routed the Sooners, 48-28. With their pride on the line, one would think that the Bearcats would be plenty motivated come New Year’s Day.

5. Tebow’s last stand
It would be easy to accept the notion that Florida won’t be motivated to play in the Sugar Bowl after Alabama stomped them in the SEC Championship Game. After winning a title last year, why would the Gators get up for Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl? But with this being Tebow’s last game as a Gator, it would be hard to believe that he won’t have Florida ready to play. Over his career, Tebow has embodied what college football is about. Perhaps nobody plays with more fire and emotion than the Gators’ signal caller and you know he’ll put everything on the line to win one last time.

2010 Sugar Bowl Game Information
Matchup: Florida (12-1) vs. Cincinnati (12-0)
Kickoff: 8:30PM ET, January 1
Odds: Florida –10

Talk smack about the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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