Plenty on the Line
Cincinnati, OH - With a four-game winning streak putting Cincinnati on the verge of its first Big East title, the 16th-ranked Bearcats have the Orange Bowl in their sights.
They'll have to focus on a different Orange first.
A home win over lowly Syracuse on Saturday would send Cincinnati to a BCS bowl for the first time, but the Bearcats will have to fend off an Orange team looking to send off lame-duck coach Greg Robinson with back-to-back road upsets.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Cincinnati -22 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on Cincinnati –22 (View College Football bet percentages).
In its fourth season in the conference, Cincinnati has made a surprising run through the Big East and it reached a new high on Saturday, when quarterback Tony Pike threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-21 win over then-No. 20 Pittsburgh.
"We feel good, but we still have one more step," senior cornerback DeAngelo Smith said.
The victory put the Bearcats (9-2, 5-1) in position for a historic win this weekend. Cincinnati went nearly 50 years without a bowl appearance until 1997, and the program's recent postseasons included trips to the Papajohns.com Bowl, the International Bowl and the Fort Worth Bowl.
But a victory Saturday would secure the Big East crown and a BCS bowl game, likely in Miami. Cincinnati and West Virginia both have one loss in conference play, but the Bearcats hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 26-23 overtime win in Morgantown on Nov. 8.
"The way I look at it, for me as a head coach, you don't enjoy the ride until you get there," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "We want to get to the Orange Bowl. We want to get to that destination."
The Bearcats have gotten to the brink of it with plenty of help from Pike, who continues to play with a broken forearm on his non-throwing (left) arm. The junior took over for starter Dustin Grutza, who broke his leg in a loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 6, and he has won six of his seven starts, throwing 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions in those games.
Against Pitt, he completed more than 80 percent of his passes (26-of-32) as both Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman topped 100 yards receiving and caught touchdowns. The 6-foot-6 Pike also had 33 rushing yards.
"We could not make a play on that quarterback," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He was incredible. I give him credit. We couldn't get him down, and not just running. He made some great throws."
The Bearcats have been especially good at home, winning all five of their games at Nippert Stadium and 16 of 18 dating back to 2006. They've averaged 30.0 points at home this season, while holding three of their five opponents to 10 or fewer.
Syracuse (3-8, 1-5), meanwhile, hadn't won a road game until last Saturday, coming from behind to stun Notre Dame 24-23 in South Bend. Cameron Dantley hit Donte Davis with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left to put the Orange ahead, and a 53-yard field goal attempt by the Irish as time expired fell short.
"It really isn't necessarily a surprise at all to our football team," Robinson said. "They knew that somewhere along the line this team was going to do something special."
Before Saturday, the school had already given up on Robinson, announcing his firing - as of the end of the season - on Nov. 16. The Orange have gone 10-36 in four seasons under Robinson, including 3-24 in Big East play.
But they showed signs of progress at Notre Dame, especially from freshman Antwon Bailey. Coming in with just 66 total rushing yards, Bailey carried 16 times for 126 yards and a touchdown while also completing a 25-yard pass.
Still, Robinson is hoping his team can put aside the win over the Irish in time for his final game.
"This is a real challenge for our football team," Robinson said. "You come off of a very emotional win and the hardest thing we'll have to deal with is that, outside of the people in our little room right here, everyone will want to talk about the Notre Dame game. We have to focus in on what's important now."
Syracuse won four of five against the Bearcats before Cincinnati joined the Big East, but the Orange are 0-3 in the series both under Robinson and in conference play.
Bearcats sophomore wide receiver Marcus Barnett, who has been quiet this season after catching 13 touchdowns as a freshman, totaled 127 receiving yards and three TDs in Cincinnati's 52-31 win at the Carrier Dome last Nov. 24. The Bearcats rolled up 544 yards of total offense in that game.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
CINCINNATI is 6-2 against the spread versus SYRACUSE since 1992
CINCINNATI is 4-4 straight up against SYRACUSE since 1992
4 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
CINCINNATI is 2-0 against the spread versus SYRACUSE over the last 3 seasons
CINCINNATI is 2-0 straight up against SYRACUSE over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at CINCINNATI since 1992
CINCINNATI is 2-1 against the spread versus SYRACUSE since 1992
CINCINNATI is 2-1 straight up against SYRACUSE since 1992
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons.
CINCINNATI is 1-0 against the spread versus SYRACUSE over the last 3 seasons
CINCINNATI is 1-0 straight up against SYRACUSE over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[WR] Mike Williams is academically ineligible - Academics - 08/08/08
[PK] John Barker is out indefinitely. - Suspension - 08/23/08
[DE] Brandon Gilbeaux is academically ineligible - Academics - 08/08/08
No significant injuries.
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Posted: 11/25/08 3:36PM ET