No. 13 UNC, No. 5 Texas A&M set for Orange Bowl collision
Motivation could be a huge factor for the Orange Bowl participants as No. 13 North Carolina collides with No. 5 Texas A&M on Jan. 2 in Miami.
Texas A&M (8-1) was one spot away from making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Instead, the Aggies will go to the Orange Bowl for the first time since a 1944 loss to LSU.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said his team shouldn’t be frustrated by the CFP rankings.
“You get in, you get out, and you’ve got to move on,” Fisher said. “You go to the future, and listen, we get an opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl, like I said, one of the great bowl games in the history of this (sport).”
The Aggies were second in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division behind top-ranked Alabama, which delivered the lone blemish on the Texas A&M record. Since then, they’ve won seven straight games.
North Carolina (8-3) tied for fourth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Tar Heels are the highest-rated team in the league other than CFP selections Clemson and Notre Dame. With the ACC’s tie-in with the Orange Bowl, that reserved a spot for North Carolina.
“There will never be a team that will be more excited about coming to the bowl game than ours,” coach Mack Brown said.
The Tar Heels and Aggies have never previously met. All in the past decade, Texas A&M has faced the other three ACC teams from the state of North Carolina in bowls, defeating Duke (2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl) and North Carolina State (2018 Gator Bowl) and losing to Wake Forest (2017 Belk Bowl).
Fisher said his team shouldn’t need to draw motivation or express anger by the CFP committee decision.
“I hope we’re doing our job as a football team and what we want to do and accomplish as a program because that’s what we do at A&M,” Fisher said. “It’s to play great football when the next game steps up, whatever the circumstances, whatever the consequences.”
Both teams are coached by men who’ve guided national championship efforts at other schools and have directed quick turnarounds in their current jobs.
North Carolina running back Michael Carter, who was part of a record-setting rushing duo with Javonte Williams, receiver Dyami Brown and linebacker Chazz Surratt all announced the day after the bowl pairings were announced that they would skip the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. Carter rushed for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns this season, Brown became the first player in school history with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and Surratt is the top pro prospect on the defense.
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell has a connection to Fisher, who was involved in initial recruiting contact with the strong-armed thrower while he was still Florida State’s coach. Howell later pledged to play for Florida State before altering his decision and stay in his home state to suit up for the Tar Heels.
“He is a tremendous football (player), tremendous leader but he’s not the only guy they got,” Fisher said.
Texas A&M has a stellar quarterback with Kellen Mond, whose four-year credentials include school records. This year, he has 19 touchdown passes with three interceptions. Running back Isaiah Spiller has rushed for 993 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brown is familiar with Texas A&M’s program because after leaving his first stint as North Carolina’s coach he had a long-term run as the Texas coach.
“This will be a tremendous challenge for us but one that we’re looking forward to because it just gives us another opportunity to see how far we need to go to get where they are,” Brown said. “… What you want is verification to your players and your staff that what you’re doing is working, and they’re reaping a reward at the end of the second year that most people don’t get a chance to do.”
North Carolina was in position for this bowl bid by winning in Hard Rock Stadium, where the Orange Bowl will be played, in its Dec. 12 regular-season finale with a 62-26 upset of Miami. Carter and Williams combined for 544 rushing yards in the game, setting a Football Bowl Subdivision record for a twosome.
This is North Carolina’s first time slotted for the Orange Bowl. The Tar Heels will make their first major bowl appearance since the 1950 Cotton Bowl.
This marks the school-record 12th consecutive year that Texas A&M heads to a bowl, though it’s the school’s first appearance in a CFP-era New Year’s Six bowl.
“I think it shows the trajectory we’re on and what we’re trying to accomplish, that we are being relevant in the national conversations and where we’re going,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s coaching bowl record is 7-2, including a 2-0 mark in Orange Bowls with Florida State (defeating Northern Illinois in 2012 and Michigan in 2016). Brown has been to the Orange Bowl twice, both as an assistant coach (with LSU and Oklahoma).
Following a pair of nine-loss seasons under Larry Fedora that prompted the rehiring of Brown, North Carolina is in the postseason for the second year in a row.
“Our guys are very excited to be where we were two years ago to now,” Brown said. “A&M has been in this neighborhood before. This is new for us. So we’re not familiar with this, but we’re learning each week something new.”
–Field Level Media