Here are three keys to watch for Duke against Cincinnati in today’s Belk Bowl (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):
1. Stop the run. It’s the priority, as Duke’s rushing defense is No. 102 in the country, allowing almost 200 rushing yards per game (199.83) -- and Cincinnati is averaging 199.75 on the ground. Bearcats running back George Winn leads the team and the Big East with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. In each of Duke’s four losses to end the regular season, the Blue Devils allowed an average of 294.5 rushing yards, and Georgia Tech and Clemson both surpassing 300.
2. Throw the ball downfield. Quarterback Sean Renfree is going to have to stretch the field and utilize his top two targets, Jamison Crowder (70 catches) and Conner Vernon (75 catches). Duke will need to try to exploit some weaknesses in Cincinnati’s secondary. The Bearcats are No. 72 in the country in pass defense, allowing 243.5 yards per game.
3. Don’t get overwhelmed by the spotlight. This is a major milestone for Duke, as the program hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1994, and it hasn’t won a bowl game since 1961. A victory over Cincinnati would not only snap a 51-year drought, it would also be a huge confidence-booster and springboard for the program heading into the offseason. Young specialists must continue to be solid, the passing game must continue to flourish, and Duke can’t get rattled or awestruck by the moment.