Rutgers v. North Carolina
Ford Field — Detroit, MI
December 26, 2014 — 4:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
If you’ve already been on the couch for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, why not stay seated for the afternoon offering? This is technically a new bowl rather than a continuation of the old Little Caesars Bowl, but you could be forgiven if you were to see this game as the same thing in a different package. It is the first contest featuring two Power Five schools this bowl season, though, which is an upgrade from recent Detroit bowl games. They’re not exactly the cream of the crop of Power Five bowl qualifiers, but watching these two teams is far better than anything else you’re likely to do on this Boxing Day.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten came with mixed reviews. The Scarlet Knights started the season 5-1, winning their first-ever game against Michigan along the way and suffering their only loss at home to Penn State. Then they faced Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to fall back to reality. Quarterback Gary Nova made short strides in what seems like his seventh or eighth season under new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, posting his best yards per attempt and cutting down on his interceptions. The team didn’t have much of a ground game, though, and allowed five more points per game than it scored. They should be able to score against North Carolina’s even worse defense, having scored 30 or more points in six of their seven victories, but the Scarlet Knights will need to stiffen up defensively to keep it from becoming too much of a shootout.
North Carolina is certainly lucky to be in any bowl game, with three of the Tar Heels’ six victories coming by five points or fewer. The team had a top-25 passing attack thanks to quarterback Marquise Williams and a quartet of receivers that all had at least 30 catches and 400 receiving yards. Williams was also the team’s top rusher, picking up 737 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Only nine other teams in FBS allowed more points per game than the 39 given up every 60 minutes by the Tar Heels. This was a team that managed to knock off Georgia Tech and Duke in conference play, but also was blown out by East Carolina, Virginia Tech, and NC State. UNC needs a big game from its dual-threat quarterback, and a mediocre defense is going to have to rise to the occasion, if the Tar Heels are going to have a shot at winning their second consecutive bowl.
What is Likely to Happen
Neither of these teams can play much defense, meaning you’re likely to see some scoring in this contest. The deciding factor will be which offense can generate more points. Look for Rutgers to stall on a few drives and be forced to kick field goals, while Gary Nova is likely good for at least one interception that could prove to be a deciding factor. Marquise Williams will protect the ball better, and he’ll manage to do more with both his arm and his legs. That will prove to be the deciding factor, as the Tar Heels score on a late touchdown to reverse a three-point deficit and snatch victory in the Motor City.
North Carolina 34, Rutgers 30