The 2021 season will be one that will be looked at as a disappointment for a Tar Heel football team that came into the fall as a top ten preseason team and finished the season with a 6-6 record and without a single win away from Chapel Hill. The team will look to get that first win just a couple of hours away from home in their bowl game, as they get ready to head to Charlotte for the Duke’s Mayo Bowl later this month.
The Tar Heels will face the South Carolina Gamecocks in a battle of 6-6 teams that will see two teams in very different spots. For as disappointed as the Tar Heels are with their season, the Gamecocks are equally as happy with their season in the first year under head coach Shane Beamer. The Gamecocks have a similar feel to the 2019 Tar Heels in that they are glad to be in a bowl game, while the Tar Heels are searching for answers and hoping to use this as a springboard for a team that needs to gain some positive momentum before what will be a crucial season for the Mack Brown 2.0 era.
This will now be the second of three matchups that the teams will have in a five year span in Charlotte. The Tar Heels won the first matchup between the two in the trio back in the 2019 season opener 24-20 that got them off to a fast start to the Mack Brown 2.0 era. The third matchup of the trio will kick off the 2023 season on September 2nd of that year.
One of the other intriguing storylines revolves around the Tar Heel quarterbacks. If Sam Howell is to play in this game, there is a chance that his career could come full circle if he were to depart for the NFL after the game. His first career start, of course, came back in that 2019 meeting between the two teams and set the table for his extremely productive career with the Tar Heels when he completed the fourth quarter to pick up the upset win. Even if Howell decides to sit this game out to prepare for the NFL Draft, true freshman Drake Maye could be in line to get his first career start against the Gamecocks in his hometown of Charlotte just as Howell did back in 2019.
This is a game where the Tar Heels need to find some answers heading into next and the extra practices will go a long way towards helping that. This could also be another chance for the Tar Heels to find some more threats at wide receiver with the news that Beau Corrales won’t return and an opportunity to find out more about the pecking order of the backfield both at running back and at quarterback. On the defensive side of the football, the Tar Heels should use this game as a chance to get a look at the future both at linebacker and safety and evaluate the other positions on this defense to see if they need to add in the transfer portal. This will also be a chance for the defense to make one last push and gain some momentum heading towards next year after a rough season.
The game will kick off on December 30th at 11:30 AM on ESPN from Charlotte. The game will also be available via the radio on both the Tar Heel Sports Network and ESPN Radio.