Media Taking Aim at UNC's Bowl Game

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In listening to the media's questions during UNC's press conference on Thursday, you might think the Tar Heels had been relegated to a bottom-of-the-barrel bowl appearance in a third world country.

The rampant thought that emerged from the Triangle's sports media world concerning North Carolina's bowl prospects was quite sensational. Apparently, when you combine a loss to N.C. State in the season finale with Gator Bowl Director Rick Catlett's decision to bypass several other ACC teams in favor of Florida State, you eventually arrive at the notion that UNC fell from the lofty perch of the Chick-fil-A or Gator Bowls all the way down to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

While that makes for a good story, in all likelihood, the Tar Heels were on their way to Nashville for the Music City Bowl as soon as they defeated Miami on Nov. 14 to become bowl eligible. The obvious wrench dealt to those plans was Bobby Bowden's retirement, providing Catlett with a sure-fire way to sell tickets and give the ACC a final parting shot in one fell swoop.

But the questions were sharp and repetitive, searching for cracks in UNC's expected politically-correct answers. The players' responses, however, bore little resemblance to rehearsed statements towing the company line.

It was almost as if the Tar Heels were a little shocked that the media was taking a direct shot at their Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance against No. 17 Pittsburgh.

"I know the older guys didn't have a problem with it, because this is only the second bowl game that I've ever been to," offensive tackle Kyle Jolly said. "So I'm just happy to be going to a bowl game and ending my college career by going to one."

Jolly may be one of only a few fifth-year seniors on UNC's roster, but his comments seemingly echoed across the Kenan Football Center's recruiting room.

"Actually, I feel like we're going back to Charlotte to get another chance to play a good football team," junior defensive tackle Marvin Austin said. "… All in all, I'm glad we're able to play in a bowl game and not going home on Christmas. Because I remember my freshman year when I had to go home on Christmas and watch all of the bowl games. Now, I still get a chance to go out and perform."

Junior running back Ryan Houston was asked if motivation would be an issue, considering UNC was going back to the Car Care Bowl.

"Well, going off the first practice that we had today, I feel like everybody is ready," Houston said. "We're looking like we're going to a BCS bowl. Everybody's out and we're laughing and playing around."

Therein lies the key point to understanding this bowl situation. In a college football landscape void of a playoff system, the promised land resides in gaining admission to the Bowl Championship Series party, which would ultimately be the ACC-aligned Orange Bowl for the Tar Heels.

"If we wanted to be in a BCS bowl, we should have only [lost] one game," junior cornerback Kendric Burney said.

The truth hurts. North Carolina could have survived the road loss at Georgia Tech and challenged for an at-large BCS bowl appearance if it would have taken care of business against three programs that failed to post a winning record this season -- Virginia, N.C. State and Florida State.

The primary difference in the various postseason options of the sub-BCS bowl tree? According to Burney, it's simply in the gifts. The Heels will be able to choose between a Bose gift package and an iPod Touch, compared to the high-definition camcorder that the Clemson Tigers will receive for participating in the Music City Bowl.

In the end, the best you can hope for is a full stadium paired with a quality opponent, and that's exactly what North Carolina received this postseason.

"If you're not in a BCS bowl game, I think they're kind of all the same," junior quarterback T.J. Yates said. "I think we got the better end of the deal playing a very good opponent in Pittsburgh. They've been a nationally-known team all season long. They've been ranked very high and we know we've got a great challenge ahead of us."

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