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Revisiting One of the Worst Sports Betting Bad Beats of All-Time: The 2012 Belk Bowl


One of the most overused phrases in sports betting is “bad beat.” Thanks to the growth of Gambling Twitter, you can’t go a day without at least one bettor claiming they were wronged by a fluky ending. It’s gotten so bad that ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt has a weekly segment dedicated specifically to “bad beats.” Some are in fact “bad” but most are nothing more than the point spread or total being decided in the waning minutes of a sporting event — a fairly common occurrence, especially in the fall with nearly every major sport in play. But for those who have truly experienced the highs and lows of sports betting, there have undoubtedly been some outcomes that were truly brutal. Today, we look back at one such occurrence. If there was ever a Bad Beat Hall of Fame, this would certainly qualify as a first ballot entry.

The year was 2012 and the college football bowl season was in full swing. Formerly the Continental Tire Bowl and Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Belk Bowl was in its second year of existence. Like a majority of pre-New Year’s bowl games, the Belk Bowl featured two middle-tier Power 5 teams at a less than desirable location — Charlotte, N.C. — playing for what was essentially the right to say you finished the season with a win and/or winning record. To put it in perspective, Randy Edsall’s first run at UConn featured a Meineke Care Care Bowl appearance and in typical Edsall-like fashion, the Huskies were manhandled by Wake Forest, 24-10. Throughout its existence, there were a handful of memorable games. In 2006, Boston College kicked a field goal as time expired to beat Navy, 25-24. In 2017, Wake Forest and Texas A&M combined for 1,260 total yards and 107 points in regulation. But of the 18 games, none was more memorable, particularly for bettors, as the 2012 matchup between Duke and Cincinnati. Butch Jones was in his second season of a dramatic turnaround as he took the Bearcats from 4-8 to 9-3 but he bailed for Tennessee and assistant Steve Stripling was named interim head coach. The Blue Devils, under the watch of David Cutcliffe, were 6-6 and bowling for the first time since 1995. Oddsmakers didn’t see the matchup as being all that competitive as Cincinnati opened as a -10.5 favorite. But bettors saw it differently as the early money poured in on Duke and the line shot down to -7 before closing -9.

Early on, the aforementioned early money appeared spot on as the Blue Devils raced out to a 16-0 first quarter lead. But with a defense that ranked 109th nationally, it was all a matter of time before Cincinnati fired back and fire back it did. Three touchdowns and two field goals later, the Bearcats led 27-16 midway through the third quarter. Duke stopped the bleeding with back-to-back long touchdown drives and after a few more scores, the smoke cleared and the game was tied 34-34 with 7:24 remaining. The table was set for one of the wildest finishes in college football history.

After forcing a three-and-out, Duke retained possession at its own 43-yard-line with 5:17 to go. They embarked on a 10-play, clock-chewing drive down to the Cincinnati 5-yard-line. It was the 10th play where shit started to go sideways for the underdog Blue Devils. Take a look…

Now if you had a Duke plus-the-points ticket in your pocket, you were still feeling pretty good — really good if it was +8.5 or better. With 1:20 to go, the absolute worst case scenario was the game goes to multiple overtimes and Cincinnati wins by eight. Not so fast.

After grinding out a first down and stopping the clock with a minute to go, Cincinnati turned to its go-to tight end, Travis Kelce. Behold…

At this point, those holding Cincinnati -7 tickets were probably thinking, cool, we may get out of here with a push. Those holding -7.5 or higher were praying to the Pick Six gods. Meanwhile, Duke backers went from, never-in-doubt, to there’s no possible way we don’t cover this game, right?

After Duke retained possession, a 13-yard pass and 15-yard roughing the passer penalty put the Blue Devils on the Cincinnati 40-yard-line with 27 seconds left AND two timeouts. Every player, coach, fan, and bettor was probably thinking the same thing: This bastard is going to overtime. But then this occurred…

What makes this game so special in the annals of sports betting bad beat history was its nondescript nature. A late December bowl game on a Thursday night between two unranked teams. Had it been the National Championship or even a big mid-season game between two top 10 teams, it would have been profound at the moment but eventually slid to the back of the bad beat line that grows with each passing season. But this game, man, this game, was and always will be one of the worst beats of all-time. And adding to its mystic is that fact that there’s been no recorded evidence of a single bettor on the planet admitting to having a bet on Cincinnati.