UNC football team one win away from bowl eligibility
For North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora, “bowl” is a dirty four-letter word.
Despite his Tar Heels (5-5, 4-3 ACC) being on the precipice of bowl eligibility — a win against Old Dominion on Saturday would seal it — Fedora wouldn’t discuss the matter at Monday’s press conference. He said his team has the same narrow focus it’s had throughout its four-game winning streak, up to UNC’s 34-27 win Saturday against Pittsburgh: Be 1-0.
“To be 1-0 this week would be really, really a great thing,” Fedora said in response to a bowl question.
“I know it’s boring for you guys, but that’s the way we’ve got it done, and that’s the way we’re going to continue.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams echoed those sentiments when faced with the same question a few minutes later, cracking a suggestive smile but ultimately repeating the “1-0” mantra.
And then there was senior defensive end Kareem Martin, whose time at UNC is coming to an end, who’s been with the program through coaching changes and an NCAA investigation and a bowl ban.
Has playing for a bowl entered his mind?
“Definitely,” Martin said. “It gives us something a little bit more to play for. Every year, you’re playing to go to a bowl game, and that sixth win has been tough. It’s been really tough for us to get this year. We got off to a slow start, and to finally be in a position to get the sixth win, just makes this game that much bigger.”
After a 1-5 start, North Carolina is trying for its first five-game win streak since 2001, and it’s trying to return to its first bowl game since a 41-24 loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl in 2011.
Some bowl projections have UNC pegged to return to Shreveport, La., for the Independence Bowl, while others have the Tar Heels headed to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, or the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
But those projections mean nothing if the Tar Heels can’t win either of their last two games — neither of which is a guarantee. Old Dominion has one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Taylor Heinicke, and season finale opponent Duke just cracked the AP poll at No. 25 after a win against Miami.
Williams said UNC can’t look too far ahead — that was the motivation for the coaching staff’s “1-0” campaign in the first place.
“We just had to focus on ourselves, man,” Williams said.
“We were too busy worrying about what we needed to do at (N.C.) State and this and that.”
But there’s also no denying that going 1-0 in this particular week would mean something more.
“Going to a bowl game would finally put everything behind us with the NCAA investigation and everything,” Martin said.
“We can finally turn over a new leaf.”