Just think, North Carolina football fans: If the Tar Heels hadn’t come out and laid the largest of eggs in the season finale against N.C. State, they could have wound up in the Bitcoin Bowl in St. Petersburg?
Instead, that’s where the Wolfpack is headed, thanks to a bowl-bid day shakeup that left the ACC with too many teams eligible for tier one bowls and not enough games. So the Wolfpack got the short end.
Which could have been UNC’s fate if not for that 35-7 loss against N.C. State to end the regular season. As it turned out, UNC probably was never headed anywhere too good – not after being embarrassed by East Carolina and Virginia Tech, and not after a listless loss against Miami.
And certainly not after the loss against N.C. State – probably the worst of the season, given the circumstances and how one-sided it was.
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At least UNC avoided Shreveport, La., and the Independence Bowl. We have that going for us, those of us – players, coaches, media members – whose Christmastime plans hinged on wherever the Tar Heels wound up.
So the good news: No Shreveport. The bad news: UNC is headed to Detroit and something called the Quick Lane Bowl. There, at Ford Field, a large NFL stadium, UNC will play Rutgers on the afternoon after Christmas.
What’s the over/under on attendance for this one going to be? Ten thousand? Maybe? If 10,000 people do show up, the next question has to be: What are you all doing here? At least they pay me to go.
It’s a tired topic, the over-abundance of college football bowls. The horse here died long ago, and yet it continues to be beaten. It’s just that games like the Quick Lane Bowl bring this issue to the forefront. Again.
On one end we have UNC, a .500 team that managed a couple good wins – Georgia Tech, Duke – amid one of the worst defensive seasons any team could ever hope to avoid. On the other end we have Rutgers, a 7-5 team that managed to go an entire season without really doing anything noteworthy.
No, beating Indiana and Maryland aren’t all that noteworthy, and neither is a win over Michigan. At least not this season. Oh, and also, the Scarlet Knights’ defense, which ranks 95th nationally, is almost as bad as UNC’s.
At least this game might have some entertainment value. There should be lots of points. It has that going for it, which is nice.
Of course, UNC coach Larry Fedora was probably less concerned with his team’s bowl destination, as long as the Tar Heels won six games and qualified for one. Because a bowl means extra practice time and extra practice time, the theory goes, leads to improvement.
Not that that theory has necessarily held up for UNC. It was at its best this season on a short week, when it beat Duke on a Thursday night. It was at its worst at East Carolina, after a bye week, and against N.C. State, when UNC had extra time to prepare after the Thursday night game at Duke.
When you talk improvement at this point in the season, the implications are always long-term. This season is already over and done with, despite the remaining trip to Detroit. A win would be nice, because a 7-6 record just looks a lot better than 6-7, even if the difference is only one game.
The real goal, though, is making these kinds of trips a memory. Remember at the start of the season, when Fedora said, “It’s time.” There was a lot of hope and belief that the Tar Heels could take the next step, win more than eight games for the first time since 1997 and compete for the ACC Coastal Division championship.
Instead, those hopes fizzled and that dream was put on hold. A disappointing season will end in a disappointing bowl in Detroit. Better than Shreveport, though.