By R.L. Bynum
After a 6–6 regular season, North Carolina’s bowl destination wasn’t going to be nearly as prestigious as last season when the Tar Heels lost to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl.
Where will the Tar Heels end up?
Projections from 11 experts are across the board, but the most common prediction is for UNC to play in the Pinstripe Bowl, a Tier 2 ACC bowl, for the first time. The game is at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 29 (ESPN).
Mark Schlabach of espn.com, Steve Lassan of athlonsports.com and collegefootballnews.com all see UNC facing Penn State (7–5) at Yankee Stadium while Stewart Mandel of The Athletic predicts that UNC’s opponent in The Bronx will be Maryland (6–6).
Three predict that the Tar Heels will play in Charlotte at the Carolina Panthers’ stadium (Duke’s Mayo Bowl, another Tier 2 bowl) at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30 (ESPN).
Brett McMurphy of actionnetwork.com has South Carolina (6–6) as the opponent, Brad Crawford of 247sports.com predicts Auburn (6–6) and Joe Giglio of WCMC (99.9 The Fan) only says that it will be an SEC opponent.
Carolina has played in the Charlotte bowl four times, under various corporate names, losing to Boston College 37–24 in 2004, West Virginia 31–30 in 2008 and Pittsburgh 19–17 in 2009 before beating Cincinnati 39–17 in 2013.
Jerry Palm of cbssports.com and Cam Mellor on profootballnetwork.com predict that UNC will meet Western Kentucky (8–4) on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. (ESPN) in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., at the Tampa Bay Bucs’ stadium. UNC never has played in that Tier 3 ACC bowl.
Kyle Bonagura of espn.com predicts that Carolina will end up in the inaugural Fenway Bowl, a Tier 3 ACC bowl at Boston’s Fenway Park at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 29 (ESPN) against Central Florida (8–4).
Richard Johnson of si.com projects Carolina to face Arizona State at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 31 (CBS) in the Sun Bowl, a Tier 2 ACC bowl.
Carolina has played in that game five times, winning 32–28 over Texas Tech in 1972, losing 26–24 to Mississippi State in 1974, beating Texas 26–10 in 1982, losing to Texas 35–31 in 1994 and losing to Stanford 25–23 in 2016.
Another big question? Will Sam Howell play in a bowl game for Carolina? After Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and Chazz Surratt skipped the Orange Bowl, it seems likely Howell won’t participate. Could playing a bowl game in Charlotte lead to a different decision for the quarterback since he grew up in that area?
UNC bowl projections
— Brett McMurphy on actionnetwork.com: Charlotte, 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 30 (ESPN), vs. South Carolina
— Brad Crawford on 247sports.com: Charlotte, 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 30 (ESPN) vs. Auburn
— Joe Giglio of WCMC (99.9 The Fan): Charlotte, 11:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 30 (ESPN) vs. SEC opponent
— Mark Schlabach on espn.com Steven Lassan on athlonsports.com and collegefootballnews.com: Pinstripe Bowl in Bronx, 2:15 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) vs. Penn State
— Stewart Mandel on The Athletic: Pinstripe Bowl in Bronx, 2:15 p.m., Dec. 29 (ESPN) vs. Maryland
— Jerry Palm on cbssports.com and Cam Mellor on profootballnetwork.com: Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., 7 p.m., Dec. 23 (ESPN) vs. Western Kentucky
— Kyle Bonagura on espn.com: Fenway Bowl in Boston, 11 a.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) vs. Central Florida
— Richard Johnson on si.com: Sun Bowl, 12:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 31, Arizona State
Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletics Communications