Tar Heels in familiar setting
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILLó North Carolina matched last year’s victory total with another eight-win regular season. It makes sense then that the Tar Heels are headed back to a familiar setting in the postseason.
The trick now is to actually win that home-state bowl game.
The Tar Heels (8-4) earned a return trip to the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte to face No. 17 Pittsburgh on Dec. 26. It wasn’t the destination some of the Tar Heels had in mind when they were entering the finale against North Carolina State with a chance at nine wins, which would have been the highest total for the program in a dozen years.
Then again, maybe that’s a sign of the progress made in three seasons under Butch Davis.
As senior left tackle Kyle Jolly put it, “I know the older guys didn’t have a problem with it because this is only the second bowl I’ve been to.”
North Carolina had a shot at a bigger bowl game in the Atlantic Coast Conference pecking order. But the Tar Heels lost to N.C. State 28-27, then Bobby Bowden’s impending retirement at Florida State threw the bowl bids in the league out of whack by sending the Seminoles (6-6) to the Gator Bowl.
But Davis said his team won’t lack motivation after sliding down the league’s bowl list and that his Tar Heels had a great experience at the bowl last year.
“The competitors look at it as a challenge,” Davis said Thursday at a news conference. “They look at it as an opportunity to play the game kids love playing. If they didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have qualified for a bowl game.”
Now they get a shot at some measure of redemption after losing to West Virginia 31-30 last season, and they figure to have the same advantage of playing in front of a home-state crowd.
The Tar Heels began bowl practices Thursday, the first of six they’ll have in Chapel Hill before heading to Charlotte on Dec. 21.
“We’re very fortunate we get to the Meineke again. They took care of us last year,” cornerback Kendric Burney said. “Everybody wants to point a finger and say we should have been in a better bowl game, but we did that to ourselves. We’re happy with the fact we’re playing a good Pittsburgh team … We’re definitely looking forward to a good show.”