North Carolina is going to its home away from home for the bowl season and East Carolina is headed to Florida.
The Tar Heels (6-6) are going back to Charlotte for their fourth trip to the Belk Bowl. They will face Cincinnati (9-3), who won last year’s Belk Bowl, on Dec. 28 at Bank of America Stadium.
The Pirates (9-3) will play Ohio University (7-5) in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Dec. 23. It’s the second straight bowl trip for ECU coach Ruffin McNeill and his third in four years.
UNC spent the postseason in Charlotte in 2004 (a 37-24 loss to Boston College), ’08 (a 31-30 loss to West Virginia) and ’09 (a 19-17 loss to Pittsburgh). The Heels will be looking for their first bowl win in Charlotte against the Bearcats, who beat Duke, 48-34 in last year’s game.
It will be UNC’s first bowl game since a 41-24 loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl in 2011. The Tar Heels won eight games last season under coach Larry Fedora but were ineligible for the postseason because of previous NCAA violations.
After a 27-23 home loss to Miami on Oct. 17, UNC’s bowl hopes looked dim. The Heels were 1-5 and in need of five wins in the final six games. Starting with a 34-10 win over Boston College on Oct. 26, UNC won five straight to qualify for a bowl for the sixth straight season.
“This is a resilient bunch of guys that kept believing in one another throughout the year and I’m glad they were rewarded with a bowl game,” Fedora said in a statement released by the team.
How the Heels finished the season, and their proximity to the Charlotte, was enough of a reason for Will Webb, the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, to choose the Tar Heels.
“They’ve always been good for us,” Webb said. “We look forward to having them in Charlotte for the fourth time.”
Cincinnati, which finished 6-2 in the American Athletic Conference, won six of its final seven games to get back to Charlotte. This is the last year of the Belk Bowl’s contract with the AAC, which was previously the Big East. Next year’s game will feature an ACC-SEC matchup.
The Heels dropped their final regular-season game, 27-25 against Duke last Saturday. The Pirates also lost their last regular-season game, 59-28 at Marshall. A win would have put the Pirates in the Conference USA championship game. Instead, Rice beat Marshall and got the conference’s slot in the Liberty Bowl opposite the SEC.
The Pirates still have a shot at history in their final C-USA season before moving to the American Athletic Conference in 2014. This group can join the 1991 team, which finished 11-1, as the only ones in school history with at least 10 wins.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of accomplishing a 10-win season, something that has only been done once in the history of our program, and allowing a special group of seniors a chance to play for a bowl championship,” McNeill said in a statement released by the school.
The Bearcats finished 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference but did what ECU couldn’t — beat Marshal, 34-31 on Sept. 14. Coach Frank Solich has led Ohio to a bowl game in five of his nine seasons, including wins in the past two bowl trips.
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