The Missouri Tigers football team plays its final game as a member of the Big 12 this afternoon when they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. On the field, the two teams are similar in a few ways. They both enter the bowl game with 7-5 records, and both are undergoing tremendous changes to their football programs. Missouri is dealing with their move to the SEC, while North Carolina is playing its final game under an interim coach.
But before we break down the on the field matchup, an introduction to the school itself is in order. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795. It claims to be the nation’s first university, and was the only college to give out degrees in the 18th century. It started out as one single building called Old East, which is still in use as a residence hall.
The university is located in the town of Chapel Hill which was chosen primarily for its central location in the state. Chapel Hill was named after the Church of England New Hope Chapel that was constructed on a hill at the crossroads of the town’s main two roads. It is nicknamed “The Southern Part of Heaven”, thanks to its rural, small-town atmosphere despite its continuing expansion and urbanization. The dynamics of the town are heavily connected to the University of North Carolina, and as UNC expanded in its early years, so too did Chapel Hill. Today Chapel Hill’s population sits at 51,519.
The University continued to develop from its inception up until the Civil War. It was one of the few schools in the Confederacy to remain open during the war, but struggled to maintain prosperity after the war. Chapel Hill lost a great deal of its population during the war. The University also saw a great decline in students post-war, and was closed during Reconstruction from 1870-1875.
After its reopening, UNC continued to grow, which has continued to this day. In 2010, UNC had a total of 29,300 students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs. It received a record 23,271 applications for new students, of which only 17 percent were accepted. The University ranks among the best public universities in the country. It was rated as the fifth best public university according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges report, as well as the eighth ranked public university in the Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges. It offers programs in 15 different schools, and is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It also incorporates a program known as the Carolina Covenant, which helps low income students graduate from UNC debt-free.
As good as North Carolina’s academics are, its athletic program is arguably just as impressive. It offers 27 varsity sports, and has been a member of the ACC since 1953. During that time the Tar Heels have won 250 conference championships over all sports, and 40 total national championships. The women’s soccer team has been dominant over the years, winning 21 national championships since 1981. That is the most championships by any single team in NCAA history.
UNC also has a storied mens basketball program, winning five NCAA titles. It also sits third all time in program victories with 2,044 wins. The Tar Heels saw great success under legendary coach Dean Smith, who coached the team from 1961-1997. At the time of his retirement, Smith had the most wins of any Division I coach, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament 27 times, winning the title twice (1982 and 1993). Today the Tar Heels are coached by Roy Williams, who boasts two national titles of his own, one in 2005 and one in 2009. This year, the Tar Heels are 11-2 and currently ranked fifth in the AP Top 25 poll.
UNC also has many natural rivalries, including Virginia in what is known as the South’s Oldest Rivalry. But it is without doubt that their biggest rival is Duke University, particularly on the hardwood. The rivalry, which is one of the fiercest in all of sports, comes from the schools being only eight miles apart, and also the historical prominence of both basketball programs. The rivalry has produced countless unforgettable matchups, which usually not only have ACC implications, but also have great influence on the national level as well. North Carolina leads the all time basketball series 131-101.
With such a historic basketball program, it can be difficult to duplicate that kind of success on the football field. But the North Carolina football team has had its fair share of success, winning five ACC Championships, and will be playing in its 28th bowl game in program history. The Independence Bowl is North Carolina’s fourth consecutive bowl appearance, including a 30-27 double overtime victory over Tennessee in last year’s Music City Bowl.
The 2011 edition of Tar Heels football got off to a rocky start to their season, when head coach Butch Davis was fired amid NCAA investigation of improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program. The NCAA began an investigation into potential improper benefits given to two players in the 2010 season, but uncovered various academic violations that led to 14 players being suspended for at least one game and seven missing the entire season. None of the violations were directly tied to Davis, but he assumed responsibility and was fired a week before training camp started.
Because of the late firing of Davis, North Carolina had no choice but to hire from within. Everett Withers, who had been the defensive coordinator at UNC since 2008, was named interim head coach for the duration of the season. Withers guided UNC to a 7-5 record this season, and was in the running for becoming the permanent head coach until Southern Mississippi head coach Larry Fedora was named coach for next year. Withers is not without a job, however, as he was hired as defensive coordinator at Ohio State starting next year. Withers will coach the Tar Heels in the Independence Bowl.
UNC got off to a hot start this season, winning five of their first six games. However, they struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last six to finish with an overall record of 7-5, 3-5 in the ACC. They are led on offense by sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner, who finished the regular season with 2,769 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Renner’s favorite target, senior wide receiver Dwight Jones, finished third in the ACC in receiving with 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was recently ruled ineligible for the Independence Bowl for using his image to promote a party, but has since been cleared to play. Freshman running back Giovani Bernard rounds out UNC’s balanced attack with 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bernard has more rushing yards than any other freshman in the country, and finished third in the category in the ACC.
Though both Mizzou and North Carolina finished with identical records, their seasons were essentially opposites. While Mizzou struggled to start the season, UNC started strong with a 5-1 record. They could not continue this success, however, while Mizzou won four of its last five, including victories over ranked Texas and Texas A&M squads. UNC is 0-3 against ranked schools this year.
Both schools also have their share of distractions that may or may not come into play during the game. UNC is playing its final game under interim coach Withers, who has already accepted another job. It will be interesting to see if Withers can keep his focus on his Tar Heel team, or if his mind will wander to his future with the Buckeyes. Mizzou, on the other hand, is dealing with its impending move to the SEC, something it has dealt with a lot over the last half of the season. Gary Pinkel and his Tigers hope to finish their season on a four game winning streak, and leave the Big 12 with a fresh taste in their mouth.
Although they have struggled, UNC matches up pretty evenly with Mizzou. Their offense is very balanced, with Jones and Bernard always threats to break off big plays. The Tigers played well at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see how sophomore quarterback James Franklin handles his first start in a bowl game. Though Missouri clearly had the better second half of the season, it has been a month since either team has played a game, and momentum will likely be a minimal factor. Both teams should be well prepared to match up against one another, and should be able to leave any potential off the field distractions behind them. It is likely to be an even game, but if Franklin is able to effectively control the Mizzou offense and the Tiger defense can slow running back Bernard and receiver Jones, the Tigers can head to the SEC on a high note.