The second weekend of bowl season gets started with a Friday matinee between the North Carolina Tar Heels of the ACC and the Temple Owls of the AAC in this year’s Military Bowl. Kickoff is at noon EST on Friday, December 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. Fans can catch all of the action on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Tar Heels as 5-point favorites with an over/under of 53.5 points. Click here to get all of the betting odds for this year’s college football bowl games.
If nothing else, there was no shortage of excitement for North Carolina in Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels started the season with surprising wins over South Carolina and Miami, only to lose three in a row and six of their next eight games. But with their backs against the wall, the Tar Heels won their final two games of the season, including a blowout win of rival NC State, to get to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl.
UNC fans could have rationalized an exciting 5-7 season, but they are surely more pleased about going to the program’s first bowl game since 2016. Now the goal is to secure a winning season and North Carolina’s first bowl victory since 2013. Fortunately, Brown is 13-7 in his career in bowl games, including a 3-2 record in his previous stint with the Tar Heels.
As for Temple, they picked up where they left off last season despite two head coaching changes during the offseason. The Owls started the year 5-1, including wins over Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Memphis. Unfortunately for Temple, things evened out during the second half of the season, as they couldn’t keep up with some of the more dynamic offensive teams in the AAC.
Nevertheless, Rod Carey will be pleased with the team’s 8-4 record in his first season in Philly. Temple has now reached a bowl game in five consecutive years, which is an incredible accomplishment for a program that had a 30-year bowl drought from 1979 to 2009. Of course, the Owls are just 1-3 in their last four bowls, including a lopsided loss to Duke last year and a Military Bowl loss to Wake Forest in 2016. That should have Temple hungry for a win to cap off their season the right way.
I can’t say enough about how much I respect the season Temple had, especially two wins over power-conference teams and an upset of Memphis. However, the Owls struggled to match up against some of the top teams in the AAC, and I think they could have similar problems against UNC. By no means do I think the Tar Heels will blow the Owls out of the water. But I think it’s reasonable to think North Carolina will win by a touchdown or two, so I’ll eat the points and lean toward the Tar Heels to cover.
There aren’t enough accolades for UNC freshman quarterback Sam Howell. He more or less came out of nowhere to win the starting job in training camp and has looked the part from Game 1. Of course, there were a few growing pains along the way, but a freshman throwing 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions is nothing short of astounding. Howell also had some of his best games late in the year, throwing 13 touchdown passes in his final four games. With a little extra practice time, he should be ready to play at a high level in the Military Bowl.
Of course, it helped Howell to have a strong supporting cast. While the UNC offensive line still has some work to do, the Tar Heels were able to run the ball consistently behind the tandem of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Both averaged better than five yards per carry while combining for over 1,700 rushing yards. North Carolina also had a top-notch receiving tandem in 2019 with Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. In addition to combining for 19 touchdowns, both receivers had exactly 947 receiving yards in 2019.
For much of the season, the Temple defense was able to hold its own. In fact, they were one of the few teams that managed to slow down Memphis. However, the Owls were exposed athletically against both SMU and Central Florida, two teams that combined for 108 points against Temple. While North Carolina’s offense may not be on the same level as those two teams, the Tar Heels have strong quarterback play and more than enough playmakers to wreak havoc on the Temple defense.
Meanwhile, I don’t think the Temple offense will be able to handle a track meet. Quarterback Anthony Russo is steady but unspectacular, completing less than 60% of his passes and averaging less than seven yards per pass. The Owls also have a rather lackluster ground game despite Re’Mahn Davis gaining 900 yards rushing this year. Temple eclipsed 30 points just twice this year, against Bucknell and UConn, so this isn’t a team that will light up the scoreboard.
Unless the Owls can play lights out defense and force an ugly, low-scoring game, their path to victory is somewhat narrow. The UNC offense is too good to keep under wraps for 60 minutes, and eventually, the Tar Heels will make enough plays to cover the 5-point spread.