While the attention of most of the college football world will be on the College Football Playoff and whether or not Georgia holds on to a playoff spot, the focus or Tar Heel fans will be on which bowl game the team will play in as they look to avoid a losing season. As we wait to find out that destination, let’s take a look at the latest projections as to where the team goes and tell what each matchup could present for the Tar Heels.
Brett McMurphy- Action Network: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. South Carolina
Mark Schlabach- ESPN: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. South Carolina
Brad Crawford- 247Sports: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. South Carolina
Steven Lassan- Athlon Sports: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. South Carolina
CollegeFootballNews.com: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. South Carolina
This is the most popular of the predictions right now and if it comes to fruition, it would be the second meeting in three years between the two teams in Charlotte and three in five years with the two teams scheduled to meet there in the 2023 season opener. This Gamecock team has had an up and down year in Shane Beamer’s first with the team, but did have a couple of big wins late in the season over Auburn and Florida that helped propel them to bowl eligibility. They will enter their bowl game off a harsh 30-0 beatdown from the Clemson Tigers to close out their 6-6 regular season, so both teams would come into this game with some added motivation off of rivalry week failures.
Jerry Palm- CBSSports: Gasparilla Bowl vs. Western Kentucky
Chandler Vessels- On3: Gasparilla Bowl vs. Western Kentucky
This is the second most popular destination and opponent for the Tar Heels and this is one that the team should probably want to avoid out of the possible opponents. While the Tar Heels definitely have more overall talent than the Hilltoppers, the Conference USA runner ups certainly have a lot more to play for at this point. Quarterback Bailey Zappe is having a simply outstanding year that is rivaling the season that Joe Burrow put together back in 2019 in terms of individual statistics and the team seems motivated to help him break some of those records. Saturday’s Conference USA title game showed that this is a defense that can be scored on, but with the likely possibility that Sam Howell won’t play in the bowl game, a shootout might not favor the Tar Heels in their bowl game.
Richard Johnson- Sports Illustrated: Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl vs. Arizona State
El Paso is a place that the Tar Heels became familiar with back in 2016 and this prediction has them going back to take on one of the Pac-12’s better teams. The Sun Devils definitely have to feel like they left some opportunities on the table this season after coming into the year preseason ranked, but the program did get a boost this week when it was announced that their starting quarterback, Jayden Daniels, was returning for his senior season. That means that he will almost certainly play in the bowl game, which would present a tough task for the Tar Heels defense in this one even though the Sun Devils offense wasn’t exactly the strength of their team this season. This mixture of their defense, though, against the Tar Heel offense that might not have Sam Howell would be a tough one and one that Mack Brown and the guys should probably want to avoid if they can.
Kerry Miller- Bleacher Report: Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl vs. Oregon State
The Beavers feel like a relative unknown, but this is a quality football team who has had a good season under Jonathan Smith. The momentum seems to be flowing for Smith and his staff and this is an offense that had a lot of success this season. This is a team that is very similar to the Tar Heels in the fact that the defense has let them down in some very winnable games and probably cost them a chance to have a better season. This is one of the more appealing matchups amongst the projections for the Tar Heels, but this one feels pretty unlikely with only one site predicting it.
Bill Bender- Sporting News: Cheez It Bowl vs. West Virginia
We go from one unlikely matchup to one that may be even more unlikely. In terms of winnability, this is the matchup that Tar Heel fans should be wanting. The Mountaineers are far from a high-scoring team and are not that lethal off a defensive team either. Like the Tar Heels, they will only really be playing to avoid a losing season and to get some extra practice time in. This is the most attractive matchup in terms of the opponent, but the likelihood of this actually happening seems extremely thin.
Kyle Bonagura- ESPN: RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl vs. Florida
Speaking of unlikely matchups, this is another one that could be very attractive in terms of the winnability but probably isn’t in the cards. The Gators program is going through a coaching change, meaning that the Tar Heels would be catching this team at a good time. The Gators are currently in the midst of a quarterback battle and this is a team that struggled offensively late in the season, but this is a team that has shown at times this season that they are capable of manhandling teams in the trenches. This would certainly be an intriguing matchup for the Tar Heels, but it might be even more unlikely than the one we just talked about.