The College Football Notebook

January 1, 2010 8:00 AM

Sugar Bowl Preview

The Sugar Bowl doesn’t have the feel of a really big game too it. Neither head coach will be on the sideline, with Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly now at Notre Dame and Florida’s Urban Meyer on a still-undefined leave of absence. Even in an ideal world, both teams would be disappointed. Cincinnati is undefeated, but left out of the national championship picture. Florida was aiming for a repeat title, before being taken apart by Alabama. Which is unfortunate, because there is a lot at stake for both programs.

Cincinnati has a chance to complete a historic, unbeaten season. And beating Florida would mean no one could question their bona fides. Utah used this venue last year to beat up Alabama and let people know they were for real. The Bearcats have played an even tougher regular season schedule than last year’s Utes did, and winning without their head coach would be quite a statement. Florida has a chance to win its third major postseason game in four years. Yes, the previous two were national championships, while this one is not. But consider what this game means in the scope of history. When we talk about Bobby Bowden’s legacy, the first thing that comes to mind is his big streak of winning major bowl games—including the ones he was disappointed to be in. Florida has the chance to get started on a similar streak if they win this game and to beat an undefeated team.

So which team shows up ready to play—or if either will—is the pre-eminent question on this game. But if that’s a wash, Florida has a huge advantage in this one. Teams that rely heavily on the passing game like Cincinnati usually have problems when confronted with a real speed defense that can match up across the field. The shutdown Nebraska put on Arizona on Wednesday night was just the latest example. I think the Bearcat offense is just going to have a real difficult time protecting Tony Pike and getting the ball down the field to Marcus Gilyard like they are accustomed. Without the passing game, they don’t have the ability to mount a consistent running attack. Look for Isaiah Pead to have a couple nice runs on some draws, but for Cincy to be unable to run when they really have to. They only ran for 21 yards in a November win over Illinois. What’s going to happen against Florida?

And if the burden falls on the Cincy defense, they have real problems. The defense played well early in road wins over Rutgers and Oregon State, but has been a weakness since. They have been run all over by Fresno State, UConn, West Virginia and finally by Pitt’s Dion Lewis. Florida doesn’t have a signature back—indeed, Tim Tebow was the leading rusher. But in this game, I expect their running back trio headed by Jeffrey Demps, and supported by Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody to set the tone early and open things for Tebow and the passing game to turn the game into a rout.

Cincinnati’s only hope is if all the intangibles fall their way. As I discussed in the Rose Bowl preview further down, there’s lot of precedents both ways—that either matters a lot, or doesn’t matter at all—which makes it tough to pick based on that. And the intangibles in this case could just as easily fall Florida’s way. There’s only a slim reed of hope for the Bearcats to rely on. I’ll be rooting for them on tonight, but realism calls this game for Florida, say 38-10.

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