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Allstate Sugar Bowl to Feature Florida vs. Cincinnati

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The 76th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic will feature the University of Florida, from the Southeastern Conference, against the University of Cincinnati, from the Big East Conference, on Friday, Jan. 1, 2010 in the Louisiana Superdome. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by Fox. This marks the first time that two top five teams have met in a non-championship Sugar Bowl since 1977.

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"We are very much looking forward to the opportunity to host the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the country, as well as their fans, for the 76th Allstate Sugar Bowl," Sugar Bowl President Richard R. Smith said. "Florida and Cincinnati have both had great seasons with thrilling games that have gone to the last minute to preserve their place in the Sugar Bowl and we are confident that the 76th chapter in our illustrious history will maintain our tradition of staging the greatest game possible."

This will be the eighth Sugar Bowl appearance by the Gators, the fourth-most in history. It will be Florida's first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 2001. Cincinnati will be making its debut in the Sugar Bowl; the last Big East team to appear in the Allstate Sugar Bowl was West Virginia, which upended Georgia, 38-35, in the 2006 Classic. Schools that are currently in the Big East have posted a 3-4-1 all-time mark in Sugar Bowl action, while SEC teams have registered a 32-34-1 mark. Florida is 2-5 in its seven previous appearances; the Gators captured the National Championship in New Orleans in 1997 with a 52-20 victory over Florida State.

"We are very pleased to have the opportunity to host two of the top five teams in the nation in this year's Allstate Sugar Bowl," Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said. "From following these two programs all season long, we are well aware of their great coaches and their star players. The Sugar Bowl Committee has worked hard over the years to present outstanding match-ups that produce thrilling games. With Cincinnati and Florida, I'm sure the 76th edition will be another memorable Sugar Bowl."

Florida was the first at-large pick of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, selected to replace SEC Champion Alabama, the Sugar Bowl anchor team, when the Crimson Tide was tabbed for the BCS National Championship Game. The Gators were No. 1 in six consecutive BCS polls prior to this week; they were No. 1 in 15 of the last 16 AP polls, including a run of nine consecutive weeks. They dropped to No. 5 in the BCS (and in the AP and USA Today polls) after their 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Saturday.

Cincinnati was the second at-large selection for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Bearcats are one of five undefeated teams remaining in Division I-A. Cincinnati, which clinched the Big East Championship with a thrilling 45-44 triumph over Pittsburgh on Saturday, will be the 47th undefeated team to play in the Sugar Bowl. The Bearcats earned their first BCS Bowl bid last year, playing Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl after winning their first Big East title.

This will be the second meeting between Florida and Cincinnati. The first meeting came on Oct. 20, 1984 as the Gators topped the Bearcats, 48-17, for Homecoming. Florida has a 7-3-2 all-time mark against Big East teams, while Cincinnati is 15-42-3 all-time against the SEC. despite making their first Sugar Bowl appearance, he Bearcats are no strangers to New Orleans and the Superdome - Cincinnati played Tulane six times in the 'Dome, posting a 1-5 record; they also played in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl, falling 24-19 to North Texas.

This year's game will mark the second straight year and just the third overall that two 12-win teams have met. In 2004, LSU and Oklahoma, both 12-1, met for the National Championship in New Orleans, while last year, Alabama and Utah both had 12 wins.

Both Florida and Cincinnati come to the Allstate Sugar Bowl boasting high-powered offenses. The Bearcats rank No. 6 in the country in scoring (39.8 points per game) and total offense (464.3 yards per game) while the Gators rank 12th in the nation in total offense (442.4) and 13th in scoring (34.7). Cincinnati's passing attack ranks No. 7 at 326.5 passing yards per game, while Florida is one of the more balanced teams in the nation, averaging 217.2 passing yards and 225.2 rushing yards per game. The Gator defense has proven to be among the best in the nation, allowing just 11.54 points per game (third in the nation) and 253.1 yards per game (fifth in the nation), while Cincinnati has allowed 20.75 points per game (24th in the nation). In addition to leading the nation in passing efficiency (166.19), the Bearcats also rank second in the country in kickoff returns with 29.20 yards per return. Florida ranks fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and has its own special teams gem, ranking No. 2 in the country in net punting.

Florida is led by last year's Manning Award winner Tim Tebow, who has completed 182-of-279 (65.2%) of his passes for 2,413 yards and 18 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, also leads the Gators in rushing with 859 yards and 13 touchdowns. Considered by many to be the greatest college football player in history, Tebow will be playing the final game of his distinguished career in New Orleans.

Cincinnati counters with its own star signal-caller in senior Tony Pike, tabbed by many as a first-round pick in next spring's NFL Draft. Pike missed all of three games and most of a fourth, but has still managed to throw for 2,350 yards and 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Both Tebow and Pike are finalists for this year's Manning Award, an honor sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl which recognizes the top quarterback in the nation AFTER the bowl games.

While the quarterbacks get the bulk of the attention for both teams, each school had one first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association - and neither was a quarterback. Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard and Florida defensive back Joe Haden both earned the honor. Gilyard capped an exceptional 2009 campaign with one of the top individual performances of the season in Saturday's win over Pitt. The senior had 381 all-purpose yards, including a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 68-yard receiving touchdown. For the season, Gilyard has caught 80 passes for 1,150 yards and 11 touchdowns while also averaging 31.6 yards per kick return with a pair of touchdowns. For good measure, he also added a punt return touchdown. In the Sugar Bowl, he will likely have to contend with Haden, arguably the top cornerback in the nation. The junior has 62 tackles with four interceptions and nine pass break-ups while also forcing a pair of fumbles.

Both teams rely heavily on their home states for recruiting as 72 Gators are from the state of Florida while 51 Bearcats hail from Ohio. Cincinnati also has six players from Florida, including Gilyard. The Gators do not have any Ohio products on their roster and neither team lists a player from Louisiana.

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