With bowl practices underway and the Baylor Bears to be played in the Russell Athletic Bowl, North Carolina’s Tar Heels are quickly shedding any lingering disappointment from losing the ACC Championship game.
The 45-37 loss to top-ranked Clemson in Charlotte on Dec. 5 remains a painful memory for the players. To some, not being included in one of the New Year’s six bowl games was a snub.
“It was tough to get out of our minds, and the bitter taste was there for a while, but what really helped was getting back on the field, getting ready for another opponent,” senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad said Tuesday. “Just moving on.”
The focus now is on a bowl win, on setting a school record with a 12th victory this season. And, yes, having a fun time in Florida and enjoying the bowl trip.
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The No. 10 Tar Heels will take an 11-2 record into the Dec. 29 bowl in Orlando, Fla., and had hoped to secure that 12th victory in the ACC Championship game. Senior quarterback Marquise Williams, who predicted Tuesday that UNC would win the ACC title next season, said a 12-2 finish would leave behind a nice legacy.
“We could make a statement as one of the best teams in Carolina history,” said linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, a senior from Dallas. “Winning 11 straight, no team’s done that. Winning seven at home, no team’s done that. We have a lot to be proud of, but winning a 12th game would be huge for us.”
The 17th-ranked Bears are 9-3 and also unhappy about how their season ended. Because of injuries, they went through four quarterbacks during the year and lost their last two games, dropping a 23-17 decision at home to Texas in their final game.
But Baylor leads the nation in scoring with 48 points a game and has two first-team All-Americans on offense – junior wide receiver Corey Coleman and senior lineman Spencer Drango. Defensive nose guard Andrew Billings, a junior, is the Big 12’s co-defensive player of the year and another first-team All-America selection.
Coleman has 74 catches for 1,363 yards this season and led the nation with 20 touchdowns, earning the Biletnikoff Award as the country’s best receiver. He has already announced he will pass up his final year of college and apply for the NFL draft.
“Coming off our performance versus Clemson, we gave up 45, we definitely think they’re just as explosive or more,” Schoettmer said of the Bears. “Regardless of who’s at quarterback, their system is designed to get a lot of yards and a lot of points.”
The UNC offense is just as explosive, averaging 40.9 points and 486.9 yards a game. The Tar Heels’ 7.33 yards per play tops Football Bowl Subdivision teams – Baylor is second at 7.25 yards.
There are some logistical issues for UNC coach Larry Fedora to resolve. Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell left to become head coach at North Texas, leaving Fedora to both look over candidates for the job and decide how the play-calling will be handled in the bowl.
“We’re game-planning the way we always have as an offensive staff,” Fedora said. “I haven’t finally decided how it’s going to go down in the game. I think I will probably be more involved than I have been, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be making all the calls.”
Fedora said response for the coordinator position has been overwhelming but added he does not feel “stressed for time” in making a hire.
“One, it’s not to going to change what we do in a bowl game,” he said. “Two, it’s not going to really change recruiting, because the kids out there know how we’re going to run our offense.”
While Littrell took another job, Fedora said he was “at peace” over Internet speculation defensive coordinator Gene Chizik might also find another head-coaching job.
“That’s not going to be something I’m going to worry about, because if the right situation arises for him and that’s what he wants, I’m going to be happy for him and his family,” Fedora said.
The Russell Athletic Bowl will be special for Rashad, a Jacksonville, Fla., native who is one of the UNC’s 12 scholarship players from Florida. He said he has been to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando many times and is eager to get back, saying he was “pumped” to get back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal.
But what Rashad wants in his home state is that 12th victory.
“Everybody has put so much into the season, and to have it go down in history as the first team to win 12 in a season would be huge,” Rashad said. “To have it recognized in that way would put a special stamp on it.”