With Two Wins Needed, Here Are UNC's Bowl Scenarios
CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina needs two wins out of its last three games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016.
The Tar Heels are currently sitting at 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the ACC with a trip to Pittsburgh on Thursday night awaiting them next. They then finish their home schedule against Mercer on Nov. 23 and close out the regular season against N.C. State in Raleigh on Nov. 30.
While UNC Coach Mack Brown and his players know what they must do to reach one of their goals of playing in the postseason, they haven’t talked about it much recently. With a Thursday game following an open date, the focus has been solely on the Panthers, instead.
“Normally what we’ve done is we go over, here’s the league standings, here’s the bowl situations, but we’ve got to get another win before we can start talking about having one more to go for a bowl,” Brown said during his weekly press conference Monday at the Kenan Football Center. “So, we really haven’t talked about it that much.”
If the Tar Heels can find a way to win at least six games on the season, they will be eligible to play in a Tier One, additional or secondary bowl game (as labeled by the ACC) based on their 7-5 or 6-6 record.
There are four Tier One bowls, including the Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl. ACC teams are also eligible to play in the Music City Bowl or Gator Bowl, which they share with the Big Ten, where they would ultimately face an SEC opponent.
There are three additional bowl games, including the Military Bowl, Independence Bowl and Quick Lane Bowl. Lastly, the two secondary bowls are the Gasparilla Bowl and Birmingham Bowl, which ACC teams are only eligible for if they are not filled by other conferences and additional ACC teams are still available.
Looking at the most recent projections, many experts have UNC playing in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA, on Thursday, Dec. 26 where it would likely face an at-large opponent that would come from a non-Power 5 conference. The Tar Heels last played in the Independence Bowl under interim head coach Everett Withers in 2011, losing to Missouri 41-24.
Other projections have UNC in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI, the Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL, or the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
Of course, reaching any bowl game and ultimately winning it would be an accomplishment for a program that has posted just a 3-7 record in the postseason since 2001, with their last win coming in a 39-17 victory over Cincinnati in the 2013 Belk Bowl.
For senior center Nick Polino, who missed six games this season due to a lower body injury, becoming bowl eligible will set a standard he hopes carries over to the next generation of players in the program.
“It’s just trying to finish as strong as we can and finish in a bowl game,” Polino said. “Just doing whatever we can to get it back on track to where we want to be and set an example for the young guys to keep it going in the future.”
Plenty of work still awaits UNC if it wants to reach one of its ultimate goals but a win against Pittsburgh would certainly put this team in prime position to do so.