North Carolina wants to put the finishing touch on a bounce-back season, but it will take defeating Temple in the Military Bowl to do so.
The Tar Heels, who gave undefeated Clemson its stiffest test of the season, won their final two regular-season games to qualify for a bowl for the first time since 2016.
“It’s really important for our guys to have a winning season,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said.
The first-ever meeting between North Carolina (6-6) and Temple (8-4) is set for Friday afternoon (noon ET, ESPN) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
Temple is in a bowl for the fifth consecutive year.
Temple’s senior class is the third-winningest group in program history with 33 victories. Sixteen players will be in uniform for their final Temple game.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first season here at Temple and only wish that I can spend more time with this outstanding senior class,” Owls coach Rod Carey said.
North Carolina’s breakthrough caught many observers off guard after Brown returned to coach the Tar Heels following a long stint at Texas and then time as an ESPN analyst.
Coincidentally, he called a Temple game during his television gig.
North Carolina won a total of five games in the two seasons before Brown’s arrival; the three seasons before that ended in bowl losses. So no player on the team has been a part of a bowl victory.
“It’s a big deal because we’ve been through so much,” North Carolina running back Michael Carter said of going to a bowl.
Ending on a positive note would be something of an achievement for the Tar Heels.
“We’ve been wanting to send our seniors out the right way,” defensive lineman Aaron Crawford said. “It’s important for us to keep the buzz going from the last two games.”
North Carolina relies heavily on freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who set several single-season school records on his way to being named Rookie of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He threw for 35 touchdowns with seven interceptions to go with an ACC-leading 3,347 passing yards.
Temple’s defense ended the regular season ranked third nationally in red-zone stinginess, so the Owls might be able to challenge parts of North Carolina’s offense. Defensive end Quincy Roche of Temple was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s a great talent, an excellent quarterback,” Roche said of Howell. “He’ll be a great test for our defense.”
Temple quarterback Anthony Russo has thrown for 21 touchdowns this season. For his career, the redshirt junior has 35 touchdown tosses, the same number as Howell.
The Owls have a similar goal as North Carolina in terms of what the Military Bowl means to seniors.
“We want to try and send them off on the right note by being the first group in Temple history to win two bowl games,” Carey said.
This is Temple’s third visit to the Military Bowl, losing to Wake Forest in 2016. The Owls also played in the event in 2009 when it was known as the EagleBank Bowl.
For the third time in four seasons, the Owls are playing a North Carolina-based team in a bowl. Last year, they lost to Duke in the Independence Bowl.
This is the first time North Carolina has been selected to play in the Military Bowl.
–Field Level Media