Bowl Notebook

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina will return to the football field just one day after Santa Claus visits next Friday, squaring off against No. 17 Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26. UNC head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters about a variety of topics prior to Tuesday's practice.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice
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** Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt and Davis go all the back to 1979, where the two coaches worked on Jimmy Johnson's staff at Oklahoma State. Davis served as the tight end/wide receivers coach in Stillwater from '79-'83, while Wannstedt coaching the defensive line from '79-'82.

Both men would follow Johnson in varying capacities to both the Miami Hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys, coaching together for a total of 11 seasons. Despite both men nabbing head coaching jobs in the NFL, they have never faced each other as opposing coaches. That is, until now.

With such a long history together, it's to be expected that their current football programs are based in the same beliefs – fundamentally sound defenses with running games born out of the I-formation.

"We were both exposed to similar philosophies at Miami and then certainly with Dallas," Davis said. "All of things schematically look a little different, but I think the fundamental principles are probably somewhat similar."

** Tuesday was North Carolina's first bowl practice to focus solely on the Panthers. The Tar Heels' first three practices focused on team and individual improvement with a specific emphasis on underclassmen, including members of the current red-shirting freshman class.

But the exam schedule has made orchestrating practice times for 100-plus players rather difficult.

"Probably the only real negative that we've been faced with is the consistency of the opportunity to practice on back-to-back days," Davis said. "It's just not going to happen because of the way that the schedule has been…

"What it does it that it makes you go back and reinforce some of the things that you had in meetings the previous day because you don't get the opportunity to get back-to-back days where you can practice, look at the film, correct mistakes, install for the next day and move on. There's been a couple of times that we've had practices that some of the players had to miss because they had [academic] things that they had to take care of... One morning we had 45 guys that had finals and that afternoon we had another 38 guys, so it wouldn't have mattered if we tried to go in the morning and in the afternoon."

In the grand scope of things, the Tar Heels having to work around exams is a minor detail. After all, they could be packing their bags to head home for the holidays.

"You would hate to put the pads away at the end of November or the middle of November when a lot of teams had to and not have an opportunity again to practice until mid-March or late-March," Davis said. "That's a pretty big layoff. I think that certainly having a bowl practice really helps your football program."

After Tuesday afternoon's practice, the team will take Wednesday off for another round of exams. The players will return to practice on Thursday and Friday before taking a much-needed break over the weekend. The squad will reconvene on Monday to travel to Charlotte and then will enjoy a typical game week schedule prior to Saturday's 4:30pm kickoff.

** On Oct. 3, North Carolina kicked off its public sales phase for the Carolina Student-Athlete Center for Excellence located in Kenan Stadium's east end zone. The second phase of Kenan's renovation process will include an academic support center for student-athletes, the Carolina Leadership Academy, an Olympic sports' strength and conditioning center, a visiting locker room, club seats and individual suites.

The Blue Zone will add a combined 3,230 seats to the stadium's capacity, with 320 of those seats residing in 20 suites on the fifth floor. Each suite – holding 16 seats – is selling for $50,000 per year.

The sales are expected to pay for most of the $70-85 million overall project price tag, and according to Davis, the fund-raising is currently going well.

"The sky boxes – probably 75-80 percent of those were spoken for almost immediately," Davis said. "They're starting another big campaign as soon as the first of the year is over with where they're going to really try to close out and finish all of the club seating stuff. But right now, everything that I'm being told is that it's 100 percent on go and that hopefully this summer we'll get started on it and try to get it done in the next 12-to-15 months."

** While injured running back Shaun Draughn (shoulder) is practicing with the intent of returning for the bowl game, you shouldn't get your hopes up.

"We have guarded optimism," Davis said. "He's out practicing and doing some of the drills… It's still 10 or 11 or 12 days away, but I would say that the chances of Shaun playing this game are extraordinarily unlikely."

** Inside Carolina reported last Thursday that freshman running back Jamal Womble had returned to practice in a limited capacity as preparation for spring ball. On Tuesday, Davis added another name to that list of practicing players coming off injury – sophomore offensive tackle Carl Gaskins (ACL). Neither player will be available for the bowl game.


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