Considering how North Carolinas season began, head coach Larry Fedora is just happy to have his team eligible for a postseason bowl game.
That the Tar Heels will be playing Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl is icing on the cake on their topsy-turvy 2013 season, according to Fedora.
Were extremely excited as a football team to be in the Queen City, Fedora said during Thursdays press conference at Bank of America Stadium, the site of the Dec. 28 bowl game. This is kind of icing on the cake for our season. We struggled starting off the season, but we grew and got better as the year went along, and finished up pretty good.
North Carolina (6-6) opened its 2013 season by losing five of its first six games three of those against ACC opponents Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami. But after a four-point loss to the then-10th ranked Hurricanes, the Tar Heels ran off five consecutive victories before a 27-25 loss to No. 24 Duke on Nov. 30.
Weve got to give our coaching staff credit for that, and our seniors, Fedora said. They did a great job of keeping that football team together, (and) keeping them believing. They found a way. We focused on being 1-0 each week, and tried to tune everything else out from the outside and just focus on that.
I believe theres only been one other BCS team since weve gone to 12 regular-season games thats gone from 1-5 to being bowl eligible. Were proud of that fact.
The late winning streak made North Carolina bowl-eligible for the first time since Fedora took over as head coach in 2012. The Tar Heels went 8-4 and tied for first place in the ACCs Coastal Division that season, but had been banned from postseason play and placed on three years probation after the NCAA found that the school was responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits and participation by ineligible players.
Now that the postseason ban is over, Fedora said its fitting that North Carolina will play in Charlotte an area that the Tar Heels heavily recruit players from, and where a large percentage of alumni live and work.
According to North Carolinas roster, 10 players are from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, another 10 players are from counties immediately surrounding Mecklenburg County, and another six players are from the region.
Im expecting a packed crowd in Bank of America Stadium with our fans, Fedora said. Right after Christmas, theyll be rarin to get outside and go see a football game.
To be here in front of all of our fans, like I said before, its icing on the cake for our football team and the university as a whole.
Kiser: 704-895-3662; Twitter: @Bkiser_CLTObs