Two of the more prolific offenses in college football meet in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Tuesday, as No. 10 North Carolina (11-2, 8-0 ACC) faces No. 18 Baylor (9-3, 6-3 Big 12) in a matchup of battle-tested teams. The ACC Coastal champion Tar Heels make their seventh bowl appearance in eight years while the Bears play in a bowl game for the sixth straight season. These two teams combined for 1,091.5 yards per game during the 2015 season.
North Carolina began the season ominously with a home loss to South Carolina but wouldn’t lose another regular season game, rattling off 11 straight. It was Larry Fedora’s third winning season out of four and the first time the Tar Heels reached an AP Top 10 ranking or won double-digit games since 1997 under Mack Brown. With the highest scoring offense in the ACC, North Carolina won just three of those 11 games by one score and ranked No. 10 in the nation in scoring, averaging 40.9 points per game. They made the ACC championship game and lost by one score on a neutral field to No. 1 Clemson, who plays in the College Football Playoff later this week.
Perhaps the highlight of UNC’s season came in Week 10, against rival Duke when the Heels gained a big edge in the division with a 66-31 victory. Quarterback Marquise Williams threw for a school-record 494 yards while UNC recorded season highs in yards (704) and points. Williams threw for 2,829 yards and ran for 867 more, accounting for 32 touchdowns. Running back Elijah Hood ran over 100 yards seven times, recording 1,345 rushing yards and 17 scores.
Art Briles’ Bears had started hot and had their eyes on the College Football Playoff but injuries and inconsistent play slowed them down the stretch. Baylor started 8-0 and scored at least 56 points in each of their first six games. A 44-34 home loss to Oklahoma ended the undefeated season but Baylor’s signature win came in a rebound effort against Oklahoma State the next week behind 304 rushing yards. The Bears defeated the Cowboys 45-35 and flipped their fortunes, but lost starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was already replacing the injured Seth Russell. Baylor lost their last two games to TCU and Texas with third-string Chris Johnson under center and finished No. 4 in the Big 12 -- a sobering ending to a season that began with so much promise.
Unfortunately for Baylor’s No. 1-ranked scoring offense (48.0 points per game), they’ll will be without some major weapons on Tuesday night. Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation’s top wide receiver) winner Corey Coleman and starting running back Shock Linwood are both out due to injuries. Coleman accounted for 37 percent of Baylor’s receiving yards (1,363) and scored 20 touchdowns, all of them in the first eight games. Linwood accounted for 37 percent of Baylor’s rush yards, accumulating 1,329 and 10 scores. Johnson will be under center and has completed 15 of 38 passes for 220 yards plus 80 yards rushing. In total, Johnson has four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Baylor hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2012 Holiday Bowl over UCLA. North Carolina last bowl win came in the Belk Bowl over Cincinnati in 2013.
Prediction: Baylor over North Carolina, 35-31
Start Time: 5:30 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN