For those who haven't been paying close enough attention lately, tonight is a big night in Bearcats athletics. The football team takes on Duke in the Belk Bowl at 6:30 p.m. and the basketball team hosts New Mexico at 9 p.m. for a UC fan doubleheader. You're likely still buried amid a pile of receipts and Christmas cookies, so fear not, I'm here to catch you up on all you need to know to informatively fill your night with exciting Bearcats athletics.
BELK BOWL: UC vs. Duke
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. (grass, outdoors)
When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN/700WLW
Follow along: UCGameday.com
Forecast: Temperatures in the high 30s at kickoff, not precipitation expected
2012 records: Bearcats 9-3 overall, Blue Devils 6-6
Ranking: Cincinnati receiving votes.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: Black and red.
Past results: This is the first meeting between the two schools in football. In basketball, of course, this happened at the 1998 Great Alaska Shootout.
Need to know: This will be the final game led by the old coaching staff. Butch Jones has gone to Tennessee along with coordinators Mike Bajakian and Jon Jancek. Assistants Mark Elder and Don Mahoney took off as well. New coach Tommy Tuberville will be in attendance but not coach despite the pared down staff. His philosophy is with a situation like this, the kids need the guidance of those who have been coaching them all season. Wide receivers coach T.J. Weist will make the offensive play calls and interim head coach Steve Stripling (defensive line) will make the defensive play calls.
Game-changing stat: With a small coaching staff, this should be an opportunity for the Bearcats to keep it simple and do what they do best -- run the football. They couldn't have asked for a more favorable matchup in that respect. UC finished the regular season ranked in the Top 25 nationally in yards per carry with George Winn rushing 227 times for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Winn needs 55 yards to pass Isaiah Pead's 2011 rushing season.
Duke ranks 103rd in the country against the run. And even those numbers took a nosedive the final six weeks of the season.
Here are Duke's last six games against the run:
Opponent: Rushes-Yards-yards per carry
Virginia Tech: 39-268-6.9
North Carolina: 38-177-4.7
Florida St.: 47-261-5.5
Georgia Tech: 72-330-4.6
Who to know: Duke QB Sean Renfree. He's completed 67 percent of his passes on the season for 2,755 yards. When Duke's at their best, Renfree is slinging it all over the field. In their season finale 51-45 loss to Miami he was 36 of 59 for 432 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The 2012 ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe handed him the ball and gave him free reign. Hemming in Renfree with the pass rush from senior Dan Giordano and friends on the front line will be key to keeping Renfree contained.
Defining matchup: TE Travis Kelce vs. Duke LBs/Safeties. If the Blue Devils can't slow the Bearcats leading receiver it will be a long night in Charlotte for the Duke fans. UC shouldn't meet much resistance running the ball so if they can spring Kelce open often there will be no way for the Blue Devils to stop this offense.
Kelce showed how dangerous he can be in the season finale against UConn where he caught two TD passes and threw for another to clinch a share of the Big East title. Scouts are now projecting Kelce as a mid-to-late round draft pick in April.
By the numbers: A win for UC would mean five 10-win seasons in the last six years for the program. They would join Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon as the only schools to make such a claim.
Quotent Quotables: LB Greg Blair on how the coaches leaving united the Bearcats around winning the Belk Bowl:
"We all we got right now," Blair said. "We try to be a player-driven team. Now all the players are coming together as one. We all met with each other and said what we had to say. We all said that we have to come together more than ever right now. Our goal is to beat Duke, get 10 wins, become an elite group with 10-win seasons because that don't come by very often. Our biggest goal is just to win a game. We're all good. We will win this game."
Looking Ahead: A complete changing of the guard will occur after the bowl game as Tommy Tuberville's staff will officially take over this team and begin the transition to 2013.
ESPN: New Mexico vs. No. 8 UC
Where: Fifth Third Arena
When: Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2/102.7 (Mo Egger/Chuck Machock radio, John Saunders/Bob Knight TV)
Follow along: UCGameday.com
2012 records: Bearcats 12-0, Lobos 12-1
Ranking: Cincinnati No. 8 in both polls, New Mexico No. 26, just outside the Top 25.
Tickets: Tickets are still available. Pick them up at building or catstix.com.
What to wear: No color scheme in place tonight.
Past results: This is the first meeting between the two schools.
Last year: New Mexico was a four seed in the NCAA tournament and lost by two to Louisville in the second round.
Need to know: This will be the best team UC has faced this season. Despite losing their first game of the season Saturday against South Dakota State, they spent the majority of the season ranked in the Top 25. Their top win came on a neutral court against UConn, 66-60.
Game-changing stat: New Mexico leads the country in percentage of points obtained at the free throw line. Nobody has been better at drawing contact and converting it into points.
The Lobos have MADE 68 more free throws than their opponents have ATTEMPTED this season.
"We got to keep our bigs out of trouble because that has been our weakness lately," Sean Kilpatrick said. "With Cheikh (Mbodj) being in foul trouble a little bit and David doing a pretty good job when Cheikh came out."
Who to know: New Mexico PG Kendall Williams. He leads the Lobos in points (14.8) and assists (5.0) with a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. He runs their show, rarely leaves the floor and creates much of the offense.
He's only committed nine turnovers in the last eight games. For a UC team focused on flipping turnovers into offense, they need to find a way to keep the ball out of Williams hands or rattle him.
How this happened: UC looked for a home-and-home matchup with a similar team and found a way to make New Mexico work for them and TV by fitting it in between Christmas and New Year's Eve. UC will repay with a visit to The Pit next year.
By the numbers: The Bearcats have played four games against teams in KenPom's current Top 100 (Xavier, Oregon, Iowa State, Alabama). The rest of the season, the Bearcats play but one team ranked outside the top 100 (DePaul at 111). New Mexico stands at 37.
"We're going to have to get a lot better," Mick Cronin said. "The waters, beginning with New Mexico, start to get a lot deeper. It's a parade of Top 25 teams or top 60 teams ... from here on out. I think the (players) want it. My concern is our veteran guys, they got to be locked in and in tune to playing winning basketball at a high level. If they are the rest of the guys will follow. I think that's the key. You got to have your veterans. That's why certain teams are really good because veterans know how to win. Not only are they good players, they've been around so they play smart and give great leadership."
Defining matchup: New Mexico perimeter defense. The Lobos rank in the bottom third of the country in 3-point FG defense. UC comes in hitting an average of seven per game. If the Bearcats are allowed to spring open 3-pointers for Cashmere Wright (46 percent) and Kilpatrick (36) all game, it could turn into a three-point bonanza against the Lobos.
Record watch: Wright needs eight assists to pass Oscar Robertson for fourth on UC's all-time list.
Quotent Quotables: Kilpatrick on if it's nice to crack the top 10 and be ranked No. 8 this week:
"We don't pay attention to the rankings. Leave it up to me, I rather just be undefeated then not be ranked. That puts a big target on you, everyone in the nation is looking at you. We like the exposure, but it don't pay us no mind."
Looking Ahead: Big East play opens on New Year's Eve Day at Pittsburgh (12-1). Rude opener to say the least.
I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or photos of your multi-TV setup tonight to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.