In an era in which the stars of the show routinely opt out of bowl games, No. 15 Oregon and North Carolina follow their leading men into the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday in San Diego.
Ducks quarterback Bo Nix is returning for the 2023 season and Tar Heels phenom Drake Maye is also playing in the game that is being held at baseball venue Petco Park for the first time.
Nix was a big hit after transferring from Auburn and completed a Pac-12-leading 71.5 percent of his passes for 3,388 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Nix found no difficulty in staying with the Ducks (9-3) instead of leaving for the NFL.
“That was kind of easy for me,” Nix said. “I just really enjoy playing football, I enjoy playing for Oregon and I enjoy playing for Coach (Dan) Lanning. So any time I have that opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Maye, the ACC Player of the Year, faced different issues as coach Mack Brown revealed other colleges were tampering with his star who passed for 4,155 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
“It’s 100-percent tampering,” Brown said of schools trying to influence Maye to enter the transfer portal. “He decided to stay and he could’ve very well left. Most people would’ve left.”
When pressed, Brown declined to say which schools were offering million-dollar name, image, likeness packages to Maye.
“I can’t say that and don’t ask Drake,” Brown said. “You know who they are. Just look at all the ones who are getting all the top recruits.”
Maye added 653 yards and seven scores on the ground for the Tar Heels (9-4). Nix rushed for 504 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Ducks lost two of their past three games but average a robust 39.7 points per game. North Carolina averages 35.
The Tar Heels, who have dropped three straight games, won’t have star wideout Josh Downs, who recently declared for the NFL Draft. Downs caught 94 passes for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Linebacker Cedric Gray (137 tackles) announced he is returning to North Carolina for the 2023 season.
Oregon lost three key defenders leading up to the bowl — cornerback Christian Gonzalez (four interceptions), linebacker Noah Sewell (56 tackles) and defensive end DJ Johnson (six sacks).
The Ducks are looking to rebound from a demoralizing 38-34 loss to Oregon State. The Tar Heels also feel the urgency after being whipped 39-10 by Clemson in the ACC title game.
“Honestly, North Carolina had kind of a similar end of the season, if you really look at it,” Oregon center Alex Forsyth said. “We both are gonna have a bad taste in our mouth, and look to get that bad taste out.”
This will be the first Holiday Bowl since 2019. The 2020 game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s game between North Carolina State and UCLA at Petco Park was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Bruins’ program.
The former host stadium, best known as Jack Murphy Stadium or Qualcomm Stadium, was demolished during 2020 and 2021.
–Field Level Media