North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith said he was looking forward to facing Stanford’s star running back, Christian McCaffrey, in the Hyaundi Sun Bowl next week.
The 6-foot, 235-pound sophomore, said playing against the NCAA’s elite players helps him measure where he is as a college football player.
But that won’t happen because the junior running back, who said he would declare for the NFL draft earlier this month, also announced Monday via Twitter that he would skip the Sun Bowl against UNC in preparation for the NFL.
The announcement surprised many throughout the sports world, as McCaffrey became the second player to say he would sit out his team’s bowl game to save themselves before the draft. The other player was LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
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Some people questioned whether the players were abandoning their teammates in doing so, or whether it was a smart business decision, as running backs have a short shelf life in the NFL.
UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik declined to speak specifically on McCaffrey’s decision. He said the Tar Heels can’t look past Stanford’s other players in preparation for the game.
The Tar Heels (9-3) play Stanford (8-4) in the Sun Bowl at 2 p.m. on Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas.
“They’ve won the Pac-12 the last three out of five years, so they’ve got good players everywhere,” Chizik said. “But (McCaffrey) was a very unique player...Very talented young guy, that made great cuts and has great vision. Great speed. Punt returner. Kick returner. He did it all, so I’m sure they’ll miss him in those regards, but they have other really good players.”
McCaffrey, at 6-feet, 201 pounds, leads the nation this season in all-purpose yards, with 211.6 yards per game. During his sophomore season, he finished second in Heisman voting and broke Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season (3,250), eclipsing it by more than 600 yards.
ESPN projects him to be a late first-round draft pick.
But UNC senior cornerback Des Lawrence and Smith, UNC’s linebacker, said they both couldn’t blame McCaffrey for sitting out the game.
“Do what you gotta do,” Lawrence said. “Personally, I think you should do whatever you feel is right, regardless of what everybody else thinks.”
Smith likened it to a coach getting a new job at the end of a season and leaving before the bowl game.
“It’s a business decision,” Smith said. “He’s about to go get a new job.”
UNC defensive lineman Nazair Jones also announced earlier this month that he would declare for the NFL draft.
However, Tuesday, he said he never considered sitting out the Dec. 30 bowl game.
“Losing to (N.C.) State at home, that can’t be my last memory in a Carolina uniform,” Jones said. “So having this as my last opportunity with this group, because we’ve been through so much, the adversity has been high and low and everything like that. So playing one more time with this group is all I can ask for.”
Jones said an offensive player choosing to sit out would be different than it would for a defensive player. He said offensive players take more hits.
“For him to not have those 25, 30 hits on him and risk injury going to the draft, I can’t blame him,” he said.