North Carolina (8-4) vs. Pitt (9-3)
Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m., (ESPN)
For the second straight season, the Tar Heels will head back to Charlotte to face one of the better teams in the Big East. Last year’s 31-30 loss to West Virginia was one of the ACC’s most entertaining bowls, but UNC has missed the offensive playmakers this season that made it that way.
While this could have been a much better season for UNC, it also could have been a much bigger disaster. Instead, the Tar Heels made an impressive turnaround that began with a stunning road upset of Virginia Tech and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1997.
UNC won four of its last five games, and has won five straight over ranked teams dating back to last season. UNC’s defense, which has been the reason for its success, will be tasked with slowing down Pitt’s standout freshman running back, Dion Lewis, who ranks third in the nation in rushing.
No. 17 Pitt is coming off a disappointing loss to Cincinnati in the Big East championship, but has the No. 16 scoring offense in the country at 33.17 points per game. Carolina has the ACC’s top defense and ranks sixth in the country, allowing just 267.8 yards per game. The Tar Heels are also No. 9 in run defense, No. 13 in pass efficiency defense and No. 13 in scoring defense.
To add a little extra motivation to this bowl game, UNC will have to prepare for Pitt knowing that their rival, NC State, was able to beat the Panthers.