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Scouting the Sun Bowl: UNC vs. Stanford

UNC's Larry Fedora talks recruitment, cowboy hats and the Sun Bowl.

VIDEO: UNC head football coach Larry Fedora discusses the recruitment of Stanford's Bryce Love, a native of Wake Forest; the Tar Heels' run defense and other topics before North Carolina's game against Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
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VIDEO: UNC head football coach Larry Fedora discusses the recruitment of Stanford's Bryce Love, a native of Wake Forest; the Tar Heels' run defense and other topics before North Carolina's game against Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

Kickoff: 2 p.m., Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas

TV/Radio: CBS, 106.1-WTKK

UNC’s strength: The Tar Heels weren’t as sharp offensively in November as they were earlier in the season, but they still have Mitch Trubisky, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and a stable of capable receivers, led by senior Ryan Switzer. T.J. Logan, the senior running back and kick returner extraordinaire, will play a more prominent role in the backfield given Elijah Hood’s absence.

Stanford’s strength: The Cardinal ranks among the top 35 teams nationally in both scoring defense (17th, holding opponents to an average of 20.2 points per game) and rushing offense (33rd, averaging about 215 yards per game). Even without running back Christian McCaffery, who is skipping this game to begin his NFL draft preparation, Stanford remains a formidable running team.

UNC offense vs. Stanford defense: The Tar Heels rank 14th nationally in yards per play (6.77) and, despite recent struggles, their passing game is a clear strength, and among the nation’s best when it’s clicking. Trubisky has all the tools and the only question is whether he has enough time and space to utilize them properly. Look for UNC to create opportunities for Switzer in the open field. UNC’s rushing offense isn’t what it was last year, amid Hood’s lingering health problems, but Logan is a big-play threat who can thrive if he develops a rhythm. Stanford has a top-35 defense, is tied for 24th nationally in yards per passing attempt allowed and the Cardinal doesn’t surrender a lot of long passing plays. Stanford has 35 sacks – but only six in its past four games. Protecting Trubisky is a must for the Tar Heels. EDGE: UNC

Stanford offense vs. UNC defense: Don’t be fooled by McCaffrey’s absence. He is Stanford’s best offensive player, but the team isn’t doomed without him. Bryce Love, the Cardinal’s No. 2 in the backfield, is averaging 7.38 yards per carry – a full yard better than McCaffrey’s average this season – and has run for 664 yards. Love, who was a standout at Wake Forest High, will challenge UNC’s defense as much as McCaffrey would have. That’s bad news for the Tar Heels, who are among the nation’s worst teams at defending the run. The Cardinal ranks 116th nationally in passing yards per game (158.5). EDGE: Stanford

Special teams: If there’s one area where the Tar Heels should have an advantage on Friday, it’s on special teams. UNC, thanks to Logan, ranks second nationally in kickoff returns; Stanford ranks last. Both teams have reliable field goal kickers – UNC’s Nick Weiler made a 54-yarder as time expired to beat Florida State on the road in early October – and neither UNC nor Stanford has been especially great on punt returns, either offensively or defensively. UNC has Ryan Switzer returning punts, and he’ll leave school as one of the most prolific returners in college football history. He is one punt return for a touchdown away from tying the NCAA career record. Switzer has yet to return a punt for a touchdown this season, and if he does on Friday it’d be a fitting end to his college years. EDGE: UNC

Intangibles: The prevailing thought is that the more motivated team is most likely to win a bowl game. UNC is trying to end the season on a positive note after a disappointing stretch run. This is the final game for a senior class that has helped lead the Tar Heels back from a 6-7 finish two years ago. Trubisky is a fourth-year junior, but it may well be his final game, too. The Cardinal brought a five-game winning streak to El Paso. UNC, though, seems to have more of a sense of desperation, which could work in their favor. EDGE: UNC

Andrew Carter

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