Military Bowl Preview: Can Gunner Kiel and Cincinnati take down Virginia Tech?
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Dec. 27, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: To see the Hokies play in a bowl for the 22nd consecutive season, the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Florida State. Virginia Tech was in danger of missing out this year, but rallied past rival Virginia on Nov. 28 to improve to 6-6. Frank Beamer has been cleared to coach from the press box after undergoing recent throat surgery, but will need to spark an offense that was listless for much of the fall: While the Hokies rank 27th in the FBS in yards per play allowed (4.99), they average just 4.94 on offense, a lowly 108th.
• Keep an eye on: Cincinnati’s quarterback play. Gunner Kiel is the starter, but the former blue-chip prospect who transferred from Notre Dame in 2013 and sat out last fall has missed notable time this season with injuries. He suffered a rib injury in a 50-28 loss at Ohio State on Sept. 27, and attempted just one pass in 38-14 win at Tulane on Oct. 31. Most recently, he missed the second half of a 38-31 victory over Houston on Dec. 6 that clinched a share of the American Athletic Conference title. If Kiel isn’t healthy, the Bearcats will turn to Munchie Legaux, a senior who has thrown for more than 3,400 yards in his college career.
• Did you know: Legaux played hero the last time these two teams met. Cincinnati beat Virginia Tech 27-24 in September 2012 after Legaux hit Damon Julian for a go-ahead 39-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
• Final analysis: Cincinnati closed the regular season by winning its final seven games, but it’s unclear how much of that is the byproduct of a weak schedule that included matchups with SMU (1-11), USF (4-8), Tulane (3-9) and Connecticut (1-11). While the Bearcats have stars like Kiel and defensive end Silverberry Mouhon, their roster pales in comparison to that of Virginia Tech, which boasts first-team All-ACC cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and P.J. Williams. The Hokies have been largely underwhelming this season, but given four weeks of preparation, quarterback Michael Brewer and the offense should find a way to get it done.
• The pick: Virginia Tech 23, Cincinnati 17