Familiarity breeds possible UNC advantage

Although North Carolina's players, coaches, and legions of fans can say whatever they want about the program's return to Charlotte and the Meineke Car Care Bowl later this month, one positive angle from UNC's perspective is that they are getting a unique opportunity to return to a game that they have very recent familiarity with.
It's somewhat rare in this day in age for a bowl-eligible school in a BCS conference to play in the same bowl game two years in a row, but given the complex dynamics with which the ACC's schools were selected this year, UNC finds itself back in the Queen City for the Holidays.
This familiarity could very well serve as an advantage for UNC heading into the December 26 matchup with Pittsburgh in Bank of America Stadium, as they'll be familiar not only with the game ritual and the surroundings, but also the pre-game hoopla and game week schedule.
"I feel like we're better prepared this year than we were last year, because last year was our first time going to a bowl, and only a few guys on the team that had ever went to a bowl, so we just weren't really ready for the distractions and all that," said junior running back Ryan Houston.
For Houston and the rest of the Tar Heel players, drowning out those distractions---along with any negativity of not going to a more prominent bowl---are essential if UNC is to come together and beat a tough Panthers squad, which nearly ended Cincinnati's undefeated regular season last weekend.
"Now as we go into this bowl---especially one we've went to already---we know what's coming, so we're going to cut out all the distractions. We're just going to put together a good practice plan and come together and beat them," Houston added.
Unlike Pitt, which hasn't played in this particular game since 2003---when it was known as the 'Continental Tire Bowl'---the Tar Heel players have intimate familiarity with everything that comes along with playing in this particular ball game, and that's something that could definitely serve as a calming presence heading in.
The players know they'll get treated to such extracurricular things as a trip to the Richard Petty Racing Experience, along with dinners and other bowl-related functions.
Finding a way to settle down, get in a good week of practice, and stay focused is going to be vitally important to playing well on game day, and knowing how everything is going to go down can certainly be helpful.
"We know the stadium. We know how we're going to warm up. We know exactly how it's going to go when we get to practice," said junior defensive tackle Marvin Austin. "When we go down there we're going to know which hotel we're going to stay in."
"We know how the week is going to go, so it's definitely some familiarity in it with us going back to Charlotte, so it can definitely be a good thing for us," Austin added.
"I don't think we're going to get 'over-excited'---we're going to know what to expect with the stadium atmosphere. I guess it's sort of an advantage to us playing in the same bowl game in back-to-back years," said sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn.
For the Tar Heel seniors, who will be playing their last game in the powder blue and white, going back to any bowl game this postseason was cause for happiness.
"I'm just happy, because this is going to be my last game (at UNC), so I'm just happy to get with the guys one last time and go to war with them," said offensive tackle Kyle Jolly.
Jolly admitted that it has put an extra jump in his step in recent days knowing that he's about to strap on the pads for the final time at Carolina, and regardless of bowl site, it's safe to say that the fifth-year veteran is going to give his all in his final run as a Tar Heel.
"It definitely does (put an extra jump in your step), just because you're like, 'I don't know if I'm going to put these shoulder pads ever again,' so it's going to be in the back of my mind, and I've got to give it everything I've got," Jolly said.