South Carolina vs. North Carolina: 5 things to know about Duke's Mayo Bowl opponent
South Carolina (6-6, 3-5 SEC) will take on North Carolina (6-6, 3-5 ACC) in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in a juicy regional matchup sure to bring plenty of alumni from the Charlotte area.
The last time the Gamecocks were at Bank of America Stadium in 2019, quarterback Jake Bentley suffered a foot injury, which set in motion a coaching change from Will Muschamp to Shane Beamer.
The Duke’s Mayo Bowl is set for Dec. 30 at the home of the Carolina Panthers, with kickoff set for 11:30 a.m. ET. South Carolina opened the 2019 season against the Tar Heels in a neutral-site game at Bank of America Stadium, where it lost, 24-20.
UNC is averaging 6.8 yards per play and 36.4 points per game, while allowing 5.9 yards per play and 31.6 points per game.
Here are 5 things to know about the Tar Heels:
1. QB Sam Howell is banged up
Howell was in the Heisman Trophy conversation this season, but he struggled out of the gate as the Tar Heels began 3-3. He finished with 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions on 2,851 passing yards. He dealt with an upper-body injury and missed the Nov. 20 game against Wofford, but he went through Senior Day festivities that week and played in the season-ending loss to North Carolina State.
Howell is ranked as the No. 5 quarterback prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Howell could decide to skip the bowl to prepare for the Draft. If he plays, it could provide a full-circle moment: Howell’s career began in Mack Brown’s return to coaching from the ESPN booth against South Carolina, and he led the Tar Heels to a thrilling comeback win.
Howell has started 36 games over the past 3 seasons.
2. WR Josh Downs is a weapon
The sophomore Downs set school records for catches (98) and receiving yards (1,273) and scored 8 touchdowns. Downs was 1 of 11 Tar Heels named to All-ACC teams but the only one to receive 1st-team honors. He was responsible for 8 of the team’s 25 receiving touchdowns.
3. LB Tomon Fox is a handful
The defense is led by graduate student Fox, a 6th-year player who had a team-high 7.5 sacks to gain All-ACC 3rd-team honors. Fox added 31 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback pressures. His 28.5 career sacks rank 3rd in UNC history.
4. Disappointing season, roster turnover
UNC had 5 players leave the program midseason to transfer in a season in which the Tar Heels were picked to win the Coastal Division and finish 2nd to Clemson in the ACC. Instead, they finished 5th in the division, capped by a regular-season finale in which the Wolfpack used a late onside kick to beat North Carolina for the 1st time since 2018.
The Heels were ranked No. 10 in the AP preseason poll, then suffered a 17-10 loss at Virginia Tech in the opener. UNC went 0-5 away from Kenan Memorial Stadium.
5. Brown’s encore
Brown, who is in the College Football Hall of Fame, is in his 2nd stint as the head coach at North Carolina. He coached the Heels from 1988 until departing in 1997 to become the head coach at Texas.
Brown and the Tar Heels took a small step back after going 8-4 last season and 7-6 in 2019.
Brown is 15-9 in bowl games. He has led the Tar Heels to 9 straight bowl appearances, beginning with a 6-game stretch from 1992-97 and followed by the current 3-game streak. The coach is 4-3 in bowl games coached at UNC, winning the 1993 Peach Bowl (Mississippi State, 21-17), the 1995 Carquest Bowl (Arkansas, 20-10), the 1997 Gator Bowl (West Virginia, 20-13) and the 2019 Military Bowl (Temple, 55-13).