#10 North Carolina v. #17 Baylor
Orlando Citrus Bowl — Orlando, FL
December 29, 2015 — 5:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
You don’t even have to wait until New Year’s Eve to watch two top-25 teams battle against one another in a bowl game thanks to the pairing in this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl! The game lucked into the Big 12’s preseason favorite to claim a spot in the College Football Playoff field… and then doubled down on this year’s surprise ACC division winner. If that doesn’t get you excited and you need more reasons than that, you probably aren’t that big a college football fan. The game will take place in the historic Citrus Bowl Stadium, a Depression-era venue that has grown from an original capacity of 8,000 seats to its present-day 60,000-seat configuration. A great matchup and a historic venue are more than you can ask for from December bowl games, and this year’s Russell Athletic bowl provides both.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina lost its season opener to South Carolina, and it felt like it was about to be more of the same for the Tar Heels football team in 2015. Then UNC rolled off 11 straight wins to run away with the ACC Coastal and earn a trip to Charlotte. Though they lost to Clemson in the conference title game, UNC nevertheless has already matched the 1972, 1980, and 1997 teams for the most wins in a season and could surpass them with the first 12-win season in in school history if they emerge victorious in Orlando. Dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams leads the 11th-best scoring attack in the country, and UNC’s bend-but-don’t-break defense gives up yards on the ground but comes up big in the secondary. Only one other school averages less time of possession per game than the Tar Heels, though, which will be interesting because…
… Baylor also ranks in the bottom 15 teams nationally in time of possession. The Bears are a quick-strike offense just like North Carolina, though they have had to suffer through the loss of two quarterbacks through the course of the year. A 10-point loss to Oklahoma ended the undefeated start, and Baylor limps into Orlando having lost two straight to TCU and Texas. They have the best offense in the country despite the slew of injuries both at quarterback and throughout the unit, though the defense still languishes far below championship quality. Baylor is a far less disciplined team than UNC, averaging nine penalties per game and 77 yards lost in the process. It all comes down to whether the Tar Heel secondary can contain otherworldly receiver Corey Coleman, who could be pivotal in determining whether Baylor gains traction.
What is Likely to Happen
Baylor is favored by 2.5 points in this late-December showdown of top-20 teams, though it is questionable just how motivated the Bears will be when they take to the Citrus Bowl field on the 29th. North Carolina has a definite motivation, the chance to complete the season with a full dozen victories. Baylor has the chance to finish the season with double digits in the win column for the third straight year and fourth in the past half-decade. That doesn’t feel like it has the same resonance, though, especially given that it is hardly as strong a motivation as the lost chance to play for a national title. UNC should bottle up Coleman and Baylor’s other speedy receivers well enough to make life difficult for likely bowl starter and regular third-string quarterback Chris Johnson. Marquise Williams and the rest of the seniors will get to go out as the first team to notch 12 wins in a year. This one won’t quite reach 100 points on the scoreboard, but it will be close enough to keep even the most lackadaisical football fan interested from start to finish.
North Carolina 45, Baylor 38
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