By R.L. Bynum
For the second time in eight years, North Carolina is going bowling in Charlotte, this time facing South Carolina in a battle of 6–6 teams.
The Duke’s Mayo Bowl will kick off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30 (ESPN) in Bank of America Stadium.
“It’s perfect for a large portion of our roster because their family and friends will easily be able to attend, and it’s another chance for our young men to play in front of our wonderful fans,” Coach Mack Brown said. “It should be a fun week of events culminating in a fun matchup with South Carolina. We can’t wait to get back to work next week and look forward to having a great time in Charlotte.”
The big question? Is playing near where Sam Howell grew up in Indian Trail enough to entice the record-breaking quarterback to play one more game for the Tar Heels?
After Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Chazz Surratt skipped the Orange Bowl last season, a New Year’s Six game, it seemed unlikely. But ESPN’s David Hale reported Monday that Howell would play in the game. Inside Carolina also reported this news.
A UNC spokesman said that Brown will address personnel news at his Wednesday press conference.
Whether it’s Howell, Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye starting at quarterback, UNC at least hasn’t had the horrible quarterback injury issues that South Carolina has endured. Three of the four quarterbacks who have played for the Gamecocks have gotten hurt, including a season-ending injury.
The Tar Heels take a 15–20 bowl record into their 36th postseason game in program history. It’s the first time UNC has earned bowl berths in three consecutive seasons since doing in four consecutive seasons (going 1–3) from 2013 until 2016 under Coach Larry Fedora.
Coach Mack Brown is 4–3 in bowls at UNC, including 3–2 in his first stint in Chapel Hill.
Carolina is 1–3 in the Charlotte bowl games, under various corporate names. UNC lost to Boston College 37–24 in 2004, West Virginia 31–30 in 2008 and Pittsburgh 19–17 in 2009 and beat Cincinnati 39–17 in 2013.
This is the 20th season of the Charlotte bowl, which has sold its name to four companies over the years and is in its second year with the Duke’s Mayo name. With this season’s appearance, Carolina will have played in the game under all four of its corporate names.
UNC is 35–19–4 all-time against South Carolina in a series that began in 1903. The Tar Heels rallied from an 11-point deficit to win the last meeting 24–20 in Charlotte in the 2019 opener.
That was the first game of Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill and Howell’s college debut. Howell set the program record for most yards in a career debut with 251 yards (245 passing and six rushing) and Javonte Williams, a sophomore, ran for 102 yards.
The Gamecocks had won six of the previous seven games before that 2019 victory.
UNC and South Carolina both lost to rivals in their regular-season finales, with the Tar Heels falling at N.C. State 34–30 and the Gamecocks losing at home to Clemson 30–0.
In his first season as South Carolina’s coach, Shane Beamer, the son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, went 3–5 in the SEC, finishing fifth in the SEC East.
Defensive end Jaylan Foster, who had 64 solo tackles, 27 assists, five interceptions and two sacks, was the only Gamecock to make first-team All-SEC.
South Carolina’s quarterback injury issues started during preseason practice when sophomore Luke Doty, the expected starter, sprained a foot.
Beamer turned to Zeb Noland, who came to South Carolina to be a graduate assistant coach. Noland, a 6–2, 232-pound graduate student, started the first three games but injured his right hand in the Gamecocks’ 40–13 Sept. 28 loss to Georgia.
Doty had recovered by that time and played in the next five games before suffering a season-ending foot injury in the 21–20 win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 16. Noland returned against Vanderbilt but tore the meniscus in his right knee the following week during a 44–14 road loss to Texas A&M.
Jason Brown, a 6–3, 229-pound redshirt senior, took over from there and started the last four games of the regular season, although Noland returned to play against Clemson.
Brown completed 60 of 108 passes for 721 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Noland connected on 50 of 89 yards for 608 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
South Carolina’s leading running backs are ZaQuandre White (583 yards and two touchdowns) and Kevin Harris (478 yards and three touchdowns).
South Carolina scores
Sept. 4 vs. Eastern Illinois W, 46–0
Sept. 11 at East Carolina W, 20–17
Sept. 18 at Georgia L, 40–13
Sept. 25 vs. Kentucky L, 16–10
Oct. 2 vs. Troy W, 23–14
Oct. 9 at Tennessee L, 45–20
Oct. 16 vs. Vanderbilt W, 21–20
Oct. 23 at Texas A&M L, 44–14
Nov.6 vs. Florida W, 40–17
Nov. 13 at Missouri L, 31–28
Nov. 20 vs. Auburn W, 21–17
Nov. 27 vs. Clemson L, 30–0
Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletics Communications