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Luke’s Take: UNC vs. Cincinnati

Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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What a long, strange trip it has been for North Carolina’s seniors. They have played for three head coaches in four years and Kareem Martin had six position coaches. They suffered through NCAA sanctions. They came out the other side.

Two years ago, they made it to a bowl and ended up disappointed, to say the least, with their experience in Shreveport, La. Last year, they weren’t eligible at all. So the Tar Heels might not be going far, but this trip to Charlotte represents something bigger than the Belk Bowl.

This is the culmination of a long struggle. It’s the finish line.

The records are deceiving here, too. North Carolina is 6-6 but all six losses were to bowl teams. Cincinnati is 9-3 but lost to 2-10 South Florida and 4-8 Illinois. The Bearcats beat only one team with a winning record (Houston) all season. They took Louisville to overtime last time out, but at home. Now they face North Carolina in what is essentially a home game for the Tar Heels. Quietly, the Bearcats are taking a huge step up in class.

Expect the Tar Heels and their seniors to finish strong – 31-15.

LUKE DeCOCK

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