Reeling Heels face tough challenge against No. 15 Oregon in Holiday Bowl

By R.L. Bynum

After three consecutive losses, now unranked North Carolina’s 37th bowl game in program history will be the first played in California.

The Tar Heels, 9–4 after Saturday night’s 39–10 loss in Charlotte to Clemson in the ACC championship game, will face No. 15 Oregon (9–3) in the Holiday Bowl.

The game is at 8 p.m. Wednesday,  Dec. 28, (Fox) at San Diego’s Petco Park, where Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres play, was canceled last year. The game that was supposed to be between N.C. State and UCLA was scrapped because of the Bruins’ COVID-19 issues.

“Really excited for our players to get a chance to go play in the Holiday Bowl,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “One of the best bowls out there. They’ll have a great experience and will have a fun week in the build-up to a great match-up with Oregon. Excited to get back at it.”

The Tar Heels were No. 24 in the final regular-season AP poll but fell out of Sunday’s latest poll before bowl season with the 26th-most poll points. UNC fell three spots to No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. UNC was No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week but didn’t make Sunday’s selection-day list.

“We’ve got to get better for the bowl game,” Brown said Saturday after the loss to the Tigers. “Every loss is demoralizing because you want to win so bad. “You want expectations. Say people get mad when you lose. Now that’s good because they didn’t care when we got here. There wasn’t anybody in the stands, and nobody cared, and we won five games and lost 18 in two years. I’m really glad people are mad. That’s a positive.”

For only the second time in his redshirt freshman season, quarterback Drake Maye threw two interceptions (also at Miami) and didn’t throw a touchdown pass (also against Georgia Tech).

Maye’s three lowest quarterback ratings have been in the three-game losing streak — 103.22 against Georgia Tech, 101.78 against N.C. State and 105.99 against Clemson. Maye’s season-high against an FBS team is 188.84 in the win over Pittsburgh, and his lowest before the last three games was 154.63 against Virginia.

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It will be the first bowl game in California for the Tar Heels, whose farthest west previous postseason game was the 20–13 victory over San Diego State in the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl.

UNC has lost its last two bowl games, 38–21 in Charlotte last season against South Carolina and 41–27 in 2020 to Texas A&M at the Orange Bowl. Carolina’s only bowl win in the last six came with the 55–13 victory over Temple in the 2019 Military Bowl.

Brett McMurphy of The Action Network reports that the Holiday Bowl wanted Notre Dame as Oregon’s opponent but the Gator Bowl instead got the Irish in a matchup with South Carolina.

The Ducks are in their first season under Coach Dan Lanning, who was the defensive coordinator for Georgia. In Lanning’s debut against his former school, the No. 1 Bulldogs rolled to a 49–3 victory.

Oregon rebounded to win its next eight games but has lost two of its last three games, all against ranked opponents — losing 37–34 at home on Nov. 12 against No. 12 Washington, winning at home against Pac 12 champion and No. 7 Utah 20–17 on Nov. 18 and losing Nov. 26 at No. 17 Oregon State 38–34.

Quarterback Bo Nix, a 6–2, 213-pound senior transfer from Auburn, has completed 71.5% of his passes for 3,389 yards and 27 touchdowns with only six interceptions, with 504 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. His top target is 6–3, 178-pound sophomore wide receiver Troy Franklin (56 catches for 867 yards and eight touchdowns).

Nix, who has battled through a right foot injury, indicated in an Instagram post that he plans to play in the bowl game.

The Ducks have two talented sophomore running backs in 5–10, 194-pound Bucky Irving (906 yards and three touchdowns) and 5–8, 194-pound Noah Whittington (754 yards and five touchdowns).

On defense, 6–0, 205-pound senior defensive back Bennett Williams leads the team with 67 tackles.

Carolina bowl history

• 1947 Sugar, lost to Georgia, 20–10
• 1949 Sugar, lost to Oklahoma, 14–6
• 1950 Cotton, lost to Rice, 27–13
• 1963 Gator, defeated Air Force, 35–0
• 1970 Peach, lost to Arizona State, 48–26
• 1971 Gator, lost to Georgia, 7–3
• 1972 Sun, defeated Texas Tech, 32–28
• 1974 Sun, lost to Mississippi State, 26–24
• 1976 Peach, lost to Kentucky, 21–0
• 1977 Liberty, lost to Nebraska, 21–17
• 1979 Gator, defeated Michigan, 17–15
• 1980 Bluebonnet, defeated Texas, 16–7
• 1981 Gator, defeated Arkansas, 31–27
• 1982 Sun, defeated Texas, 26–10
• 1983 Peach, lost to Florida State, 28–3
• 1986 Aloha, lost to Arizona, 30–21
• 1993 Peach, defeated Mississippi St., 21–17
• 1993 Gator, lost to Alabama, 24–10
• 1994 Sun, lost to Texas, 35–31
• 1995 Carquest, defeated Arkansas, 20–10
• 1997 Gator, defeated West Virginia, 20–13
• 1998 Gator, defeated Virginia Tech, 42–3
• 1998 Las Vegas, defeated SDSU, 20–13
• 2001 Peach, defeated Auburn, 16–10
• 2004 Continental Tire, lost to Boston College, 37–24
• 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl, lost to WVU, 31–30
• 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl, lost to Pittsburgh, 19–17
• 2010 Music City Bowl, defeated Tennessee, 30–27 (2OT)
• 2011 Independence Bowl, lost to Missouri, 41–24
• 2013 Belk Bowl, defeated Cincinnati, 39–17
• 2014 Quick Lane Bowl, lost to Rutgers, 40–21
• 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl, lost to Baylor, 49–38
• 2016 Sun Bowl, lost to Stanford, 25–23
• 2019 Military Bowl, defeated Temple, 55–13
• 2020 Orange Bowl, lost to Texas A&M, 41–27
• 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl lost to South Carolina, 38–21

DateMonth/dayTime/scoreLocationOpponent
(current rank)
TV/
record
August
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
September
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNo. 19
Notre Dame
3–1
October
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8SaturdayW, 27–24Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami 5–1, 2–0 ACC
15SaturdayW, 38–35DurhamDuke6–1, 3–0 ACC
29SaturdayW, 42–24HomePittsburgh7–1, 4–0 ACC
November
5SaturdayW, 31–28CharlottesvilleVirginia8–1, 5–0 ACC
12SaturdayW, 36–34Winston-SalemWake Forest 9–1, 6–0 ACC
19SaturdayL, 21–17HomeGeorgia Tech 9–2, 6–1 ACC
25FridayL, 30–27,
2 OTs
HomeNo. 25 N.C. State 9–3, 6–2 ACC
DecemberACC championship
3SaturdayL, 39–10CharlotteNo. 10 Clemson9–4
Holiday Bowl
28WednesdayL, 28–27San DiegoNo. 15 Oregon9–5

Photo courtesy of the ACC

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