The North Carolina football team isn’t always in the college football bowl conversation. They’ve only been to 34 bowl games since the six major New Year's Day bowls were popularized in the 1930s.
But sometimes, when North Carolina does find itself playing football around New Year's, the games can get weird. With this year's team potentially playing in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021, let's take a look at some of the wildest bowl games the Tar Heels have played in throughout the years.
1983 Peach Bowl: Florida State 28, North Carolina 3
In Atlanta, the 8-3 North Carolina Tar Heels were set to face off against the 7-4 Florida State Seminoles, who had yet to join the ACC, in the Peach Bowl.
This UNC team had proven its winning ways, starting the season with a seven-game win streak before losing to No. 13 Maryland by just two points. They also showed just how good they were at scoring, putting up more than 24 points in nine of 11 regular season games before the bowl matchup.
By most measurable statistics, this game should have been much closer.
But the Seminoles, led by legendary head coach Bobby Bowden, had other plans. Quarterback Eric Thomas threw two touchdowns and ran for one more en route to the game’s MVP award. Florida State also had a lockdown defensive performance, shutting out the Tar Heels for three quarters and only allowing 73 rushing yards all game. As the clock showed zeroes, the once high-scoring Tar Heels only had a late field goal to show for their efforts.
2010 Music City Bowl: North Carolina 30, Tennessee 27
Sometimes, things get so weird that the NCAA has to step in and stop them from getting that weird ever again.
Enter the 2010 Music City Bowl. With just a few seconds left, the timeout-less Tar Heels were down 20-17 against Tennessee. In a last-ditch attempt to equalize, head coach Butch Davis rushed the field goal unit on. However, in an apparent miscommunication, senior quarterback T.J. Yates spiked the ball to stop the clock, and the Tar Heels got flagged for too many men on the field.
Oddly enough, the play worked. Due to a quirk in the rules, North Carolina received a five-yard penalty, but still had one more down with one second left and the clock stopped. A 39-yard field goal sent the game to overtime, where the Tar Heels and Volunteers each scored. In the second period, Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray threw a goal-line interception, allowing UNC to march down the field and kick a 23-yarder for the win.
Soon after the game, the NCAA passed a rule stating a 10-second clock runoff can be assessed on any clock-stopping penalty during the final minute of a game.
Yeah, it got that wild.
2015 Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor 49, North Carolina 38
Coming into this game, Baylor’s injury problems could only be described as severe.
All three of its quarterbacks had missed playing time with injuries. Its best running back was out with an injury. Corey Coleman, the Baylor wideout who was fresh off winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top receiver, was also out.
Realistically, all UNC had to do to win was put up points — it hadn’t scored less than 26 points that year since the season-opener — and stop a second-string offense. And UNC did score points.
But Baylor didn’t just score in return.
No, the Bears instead steamrolled North Carolina under the weight of 645 rushing yards, the record for most yards on the ground in a bowl game, smashing the previous record by over 100 yards.
Their secondary running back, Johnny Jefferson, the guy who was filling in? Three touchdowns and a bowl-record 299 yards on the ground in an MVP performance. It was easily the greatest performance of his career and one of the best bowl performances of all time.
And the Tar Heels only got to watch it tear them apart.
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