Welcome to ACC bowl season! Crazy that postseason festivities have been going on for over a week already without the conference’s participation, but the resulting eight-team, 10-day whirlwind (Pittsburgh doesn’t play until a few days after the Orange Bowl) promises to be exciting, even if it’s not necessarily fruitful for the conference’s less-than-stunning bowl reputation. We start off with an evenly matched contest between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Big 12‘s Missouri Tigers in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl.
Bowl Game: (Advocare V100) Independence Bowl
Location: Shreveport, La.
First Year: 1976
2011 Participants: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-5)
Last Meeting: 1976, a 24-3 home win by Missouri
Rather than talking about how wide receiver Dwight Jones could improve his draft stock during his final game as a collegiate athlete, we were too busy worrying about his likeness on club posters last week. In spite of those shenanigans, Jones will play and promises to be a major factor in the Tar Heels. Based on their offense’s performance at times this season, he’ll need to be, too. Finishing 57th overall while scoring 28 points per game, UNC also had three games where they only managed two touchdowns or less (including an embarrassing shutout at the hands of NC State). Their defense, while good, still let up an average of 23.5 points per game — a bit concerning considering the level of competition UNC faced this season. While Missouri is hardly the best team these ‘Heels have faced (they’ve previously lost to far superior Clemson and Virginia Tech squads this year), their most impressive win is a 28-17 victory over an unranked Virginia outfit. Needless to say, they still have something to prove.
I recall last year’s Iowa-Missouri bowl game being utterly confusing, since both teams wear the same colors (yellow and black). Glad bowl organizers avoided such a mix-up this year. Of note about these Tigers, they won four of their last five games to get here, have a better offense (32.2 points per game) and a very similar defense (same amount of points per game as the Heels — 23.5). Missouri quarterback James Franklin appears very similar when compared to UNC counterpart Bryn Renner, both racking up around 2,700 yards passing along with 20 or so touchdowns — until you see Franklin’s eye-popping 839 yards on the ground, too. If one of these teams excels at anything, it’s the Tigers and their run-game, which was ranked 11th in the FBS (against Big 12 competition, to boot).
Missouri’s proficiency running the ball will likely be the difference in a game of mostly equal competitors. It can also be argued that the Tigers were only truly “out” of one game all year, a 45-24 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State (who actually beat Oklahoma by even more than that margin, so take from that what you will). North Carolina, on the other hand, was truly dominated in two of their games — a respectable loss to Clemson and the previously mentioned shutout to NC State. Looking at the quality of opponents though, the nod here (based on resume) goes to Missouri, with four losses to ranked teams. Plus, with their forthcoming move to the SEC, it would only be fair that they torched an ACC squad to kick things off. I’ve heard it’s part of the initiation process. Prediction: Missouri 38, UNC 24