Two budding university football programs, two coaches who have won national championships, two teams in the top five: so many recipes for a quality game of jeu de boules.
The Capital Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET 2 January on ESPN and ESPN App) will feature two big names that have reached the height of this century: Mac Brown, North Carolina coach, and Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M coach.
Both coaches have won their titles elsewhere – Brown in Texas and Fisher in Florida – and both are in new situations. Brown, who left Texas after the 2013 season, spent some time away from the coaching staff before returning to Chapel Hill for his second tour to lead the Tar Heels in 2019. Fisher left the state of Florida after the 2017 season and is in his third year with the Aggies.
Fisher’s team had certainly hoped to make the university soccer play-offs, but narrowly missed out on fifth place. Brown, who resumed the program after a two-winning season, is already playing after two years Old and New Sixth and has won a total of 15 games in the last two seasons.
With two teams wanting to distinguish themselves with a quality gain in the course of the season, this should be an exciting competition.
A major player for North Carolina: Quarterback Sam Howell. Howell continued his excellent rookie season by throwing for 3,352 yards with 27 touchdowns and six interceptions to form the second team in the All-ACC. Although lead receiver Diami Brown announced his retirement from the NFL Draft and passed the ball game, Howell has many skilled receivers to throw the ball at, including Brown’s younger brother Dazz Newsome, Hafre, Emery Simmons and Javonte Williams, who has been very valuable off the field.
A major player for Texas A&M: QB Kellen World. He won’t be on many cards, but he had a great season on Monday. The senior threw 19 touchdowns for only three interceptions, he made 63.5% of his passes, a career record, and he did a great job of taking care of the ball and not being afraid to throw the field. He had the backing of a large offensive line and running game, as well as an exceptional backcourt game (Jalen Wydermyer), but his recipients were mostly young or had little experience.
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Game to watch: Isaiah Spiller and the Texas A&M match against the North Carolina defense. The Aggies were the second best SEC team in the race with Spiller (986 yards, seven touchdowns) in the lead. The Aggie offensive line was one of the best in the country and is a finalist for the Joe Moore Award. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels allowed 147.8 yards per game and only 4.1 yards per rush, making them fifth in the CCA. There have been weeks in which they have excelled (the UNC has held opponents under 100 yards four times) and weeks in which they have not excelled (they have allowed more than 199 yards four times).
X factor : Weidermeyer has given his opponent good results throughout the season. The Mackey Award finalist ranks third in the national rankings in the tight receptions (45). He is a solid target for Monday and a frequent target in the red zone (Wydermyer has scored six touchdowns). Playing without defender Chazz Surratt, who has declared himself for the NFL draft and is not in the running, will add complexity to the Tar Heels defense.
Motivation factor : For teams that missed the playoffs, it can go either way. The frustration of being detached can turn into lethargy or a spark that proves you belong. It’s Aggie, you bet. The program is still on the rise under the direction of Fisher, and this season could be the starting point for greater success. Make sure they’re clean and accurate. As for North Carolina, Mac Brown said that after his team’s decisive victory over Miami to end the regular season, the Tar Heels want to play in the Orange Bowl. Although the Tar Heels miss their top three players, Dayami Brown, Surratt and leader Michael Carter, it’s a bowling game that UNC aspires to, as well as the first appearance of the New Year’s Six.