December 30, 2010/6:40 pm Eastern
Nashville, TN - LP Field
North Carolina Tar Heels
Popular VideoThis young teenage singer was shocked when Keith Urban invited her on stage at his concert. A few moments later, he made her wildest dreams come true.
In the preseason it was Tennessee that was the program in turmoil. Lane Kiffin had just bolted Knoxville after parlaying one year of mediocrity with the Vols into his dream post at USC. Players were departing the program before new head coach Derek Dooley could even get a chance to make a sales pitch to them. And even as November rolled around, Tennessee looked nothing like a postseason candidate with a 2-6 record. But by ripping off four straight wins to close out December against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky they persevered and clawed their way into a bowl game right around the corner from home.
In the preseason it was North Carolina that looked like a contender for their first ACC title in three decades. A veteran squad was returning, and it seemed Butch Davis was going to have the bodies to battle Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech and Miami for the division crown. And then the revelations started bursting in what would become AgentGate, and one after another those veterans faded out of the picture thanks to suspensions. A second paper-writing scandal further weakened the roster. A pair of 30-24 losses to LSU and Georgia Tech put them in an 0-2 hole, and the Tar Heels never really recovered momentum. So instead of being in the hunt for a BCS berth, Davis’ squad heads to Nashville wondering what might have been…
- North Carolina: Long regarded as the weak link in the UNC offense, QB T.J. Yates showed real improvement in his senior season. Yates, a career 60% passer, improved his completion percentage more than seven full points in 2010 and displayed greater accuracy and decision making in his play. For the first time in his college career he had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio. About the only blemishes on his record were the four interceptions he threw in the Virginia Tech game, and the 34 sacks he took. Preventing too many costly turnovers and staying clean and upright will be essential for Yates if he is to guide North Carolina to a bowl victory at LP Field…
- Tennessee: Montario Hardesty completed his senior season last year, and expected starter Bryce Brown transferred out of Tennessee to Kansas State soon after Kiffin bolted for Los Angeles. And so the starting job in the backfield feel by default to junior RB Tauren Poole. The 5’11″, 213-pound junior made the most of his opportunity, putting up nearly a thousand rushing yards in the regular season and over 1100 yards of total offense. Averaging over five yards a carry and eight a catch, Poole scored a dozen touchdowns. He proved a key cog in Dooley’s offense and will be the fuel for any upset bid generated by the Vols in Nashville…
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
If Poole can open things up for freshman Tennessee QB Tyler Bray by keeping the Tar Heel defense honest, this receiver/cornerback matchup will become the key one to watch. WR Denarius Moore averaged over 21 yards per reception this season and snagged nine touchdowns, improving his statistics all around. The speedy 6’1″, 194-pound senior creates matchup nightmares for many secondaries, but in CB Kendric Burney and S Da’Norris Searcy the Tar Heels defense have a secondary that can make life difficult for Moore. If Burney and Searcy can shut down Moore, things will become that much easier for UNC. But if Moore gets the better of the showdown, Bray will likely manage his fourth 300+ yard game in the past five games and the Vols will be right there in the hunt against a team that has the advantage in most other categories…
Popular VideoThis young teenage singer was shocked when Keith Urban invited her on stage at his concert. A few moments later, he made her wildest dreams come true:
TALE OF THE TAPE
Field Position: Tennessee averages a yard and a half more on kickoff returns than the Tar Heels, yet the Vols rank 111th out of 120 teams in punt return average. North Carolina is 93rd nationally on kickoffs, yet ranks among the top 50 in punt returns. The Vols have the better punter in Chad Cunningham, but if they can’t get down the field quickly enough in coverage his more powerful leg will be wasted. With both teams hovering around the middle of the pack in total offensive yardage, the team that can set up in better field position regularly will exponentially increase their shot at victory…
Two teams with divergent expectations in the offseason are squaring off in a classic SEC/ACC showdown. If North Carolina dwells on what might have been had they not been decimated by NCAA rulings, they could very well be in trouble against a Tennessee team that has improved leaps and bounds as the season ground on. Tennessee enters the game high on the fact that they were able to return to the postseason for a fourth straight season despite all the turmoil in the offseason. But talentwise the Tar Heels still have the wide advantage at most positions, and while this one will be close expect UNC to get a crucial late scoring drive out of T.J. Yates to take a tight victory in the Music City…
PREDICTION: North Carolina 27, Tennessee 21