Distractions still loom for Tar Heels

December 26, 2011 

If the Tar Heels are fully focused on winning this game, interim coach Everett Withers should get an honorary psychology degree from UNC before he trucks off to join Ohio State's staff.

With the Larry Fedora coaching era about to begin and the program's NCAA punishments likely to be known within a month, the Tar Heels will have to deal with as much background noise and as many side shows as any team in the 35-game bowl mix.

There's also a chance some of the UNC players will be more concerned about their health and status in the 2012 NFL draft than in locking in on a low-profile bowl game.

Missouri, though, should play with a good deal of urgency.

Coach Gary Pinkel has lost two straight bowls and was suspended for the final regular-season game after getting arrested for drinking and driving.

Sophomore quarterback James Franklin's passing has been erratic at times, but he led the team to a 4-1 late-season run and hardly was upstaged by Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in a 42-39 loss at Baylor in the Tigers' lone loss in their final five games.

Add in the fact that UNC finished last in the ACC in pass defense, and there's little reason to think Franklin will struggle.

The Heels did catch a break when wideout Dwight Jones was ruled eligible. The offense should score some, but probably not enough. Tigers, 31-28.

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