They’ve squared off in a bowl game before. The Cincinnati Bearcats of the now defunct Big East Conference beat the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC on last minute heroics in the 2012 Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC. With the score tied at 34, UC quarterback Brendon Kay hit TE Travis Kelce for an 83-yard TD strike that gave UC the lead and the victory in front of 50,000 fans. Fast forward five years and both the BCS and the Big East are extinct. The BCS has given way to the College Football Playoff and the Big East was bludgeoned to death by conference realignment. At the time of the 2012 Belk Bowl UC as a member of the Big East was considered a power program in a power league as the Big East was one of six BCS power conferences. Fast forward five years and the Power 6 has become the Power 5 as Big East football was killed off by attrition. Then Big East members Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia left for greener pastures, picked apart by fellow BCS conferences ACC, Big 10 and Big 12. The left over Big East football schools of UC, South Florida and Connecticut scrambled and formed a new conference, the American Athletic by adding members from the then non-BCS conference, Conference USA plus Navy. Cincinnati, who prior to the conference realignment was on an upward trajectory, winning the Big East four times in five years and averaged 10 wins a season during that span including two consecutive BCS bowl appearances, was left without a power suiter. If this was the game of Musical Chairs, the music stopped, and UC was left standing without a seat. The American Athletic Conference is part of what is known collectively as the Group of Five conferences (G5): five ‘non-power’ conferences that are on the outside looking in. The G5 conferences have no contract New Year’s Day bowl for their conference winners and meager television payout. UC’s opponent, Duke University is a member of the ACC, a Power Five conference (P5). These are the five conferences who rule college football and make the rules. The P5 conference winners are all guaranteed a spot in a lucrative New Year’s Day bowl games and they all have enormous television contracts. To put things in perspective, the Due Blue Devils alone get more annually from the ACC television money than all 10 members of the Athletic Conference football teams get from theirs combined. A G5 program like Cincinnati can still reach a New Year’s Day bowl game but to do so they must be the best team among five conferences (G5) rather than just the best team in their own conference. A lot has changed since these two programs last met. Five years ago, these two programs met in a bowl on even footing. Today UC comes into this game looking up at the Blue Devils. When asked about the G5 vs P5 matchup UC Head Coach Jim Miller downplayed the situation, “Power Five, Group of Give, these are names you guys [media members] invented. It’s just football to me.”. Miller went on to say, “All Duke is to us is the next team on our schedule. I’m going to prepare for them like I would any other team. I’m sorry if my answer doesn’t line up with your narrative.” Duke is currently a seven-point favorite.
Cincinnati and Duke square off in the Military Bowl at Navy – Marine Corp Memorial Stadium tomorrow at 2PM. The game is nationally televised on ESPN.