Russell Athletic Bowl: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Baylor Bears
Date: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Orlando | Orlando Citrus Bowl
North Carolina Tar Heels
Best moment: Beating Duke 66-31. This was North Carolina’s best, most complete win of the season, a thorough takedown of its bitter in-state rival that was over at halftime. Quarterback Marquise Williams had a school-record 494 yards passing in the game as the Tar Heels racked up season highs for total yards (704), passing yards (537) and points. The win also helped give North Carolina the inside track at winning the Coastal while eliminating Duke from contention.
Lowest moment: Losing to South Carolina 17-13 in the opener. North Carolina should have won this game, but wasted multiple opportunities because of turnovers and questionable coaching calls. Williams had three interceptions, including two in the end zone. His last one came with 3:48 remaining and would have given the Tar Heels the lead. But coach Larry Fedora was questioned about his play calling in the aftermath after failing to give the ball to Elijah Hood on the goal line on that drive. Hood had 138 yards rushing in the game, and could have been a difference-maker in the end.
Key players: Williams and Hood. The fifth-year senior really settled down after the loss to South Carolina and helped guide the Tar Heels to one of the best seasons on record. He and Hood have proved to be a force rushing the ball, too, as they have combined for over 2,000 yards rushing on the season. North Carolina’s improved run game is a huge reason why this team has gotten so far in 2015.
Motivation level: High. North Carolina came close to upsetting Clemson in the ACC championship game, but lost on a shaky onside-kick penalty call. They should be motivated to close out a highly successful season, knowing they came eight points away from winning. Or maybe the wind will be out of their sails after giving everything they had and coming up short against the Tigers.
-- Andrea Adelson
Best moment: Baylor overpowered Oklahoma State in an impressive win while using a pair of backup quarterbacks (Jarrett Stidham, Chris Johnson). Art Briles’ team had never won in Stillwater but accomplished that feat in dominating fashion, rushing 73 times for 304 yards, on Nov. 21.
Lowest moment: Baylor’s destiny changed when quarterback Seth Russell lowered his head and tried to run over three Iowa State defenders on Oct. 24. The junior quarterback, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level, was lost for the season with a neck injury right before Baylor’s toughest stretch. Baylor entered November with an undefeated record but without a quarterback who had taken a meaningful college snap.
Key player: DT Andrew Billings sets the tone for Baylor’s defense as a disruptive force in the middle. People are just starting to recognize his greatness, but he’s been Baylor’s best defensive lineman for two years.
Motivational level: After stumbling to the finish line with back-to-back losses to TCU and Texas to end the regular season, Baylor needs a win to head into the offseason with some type of momentum instead of a three-game losing streak.
-- Brandon Chatmon