UNC bowl eligibility on line against Old Dominion today
With a postseason ban last year and a 1-5 start this year, North Carolina senior defensive end Kareem Martin wondered if his career would end without another bowl appearance.
But the Tar Heels (5-5) are now on the verge of their first five-game winning streak in 12 years, and can clinch bowl eligibility with a victory today against Old Dominion at Kenan Stadium (noon, Fox Sports Carolinas).
“It gives us a little more to play for,” Martin said. “Every year you’re playing to go to a bwol game, and that sixth win is tough, it’s been really tough for us to get this year. We got off to a slow start, and to finally be in a position to get the sixth win just makes this game so much bigger.”
The Tar Heels went 8-4 last year but NCAA sanctions prevented them from playing in a bowl.
“Going to a bowl game would finally just put everything behind us, with the NCAA investigation and everything,” said Martin, who is seventh in the country in tackles for loss (16.0) and 12th in sacks (9.0). “We can finally turn over a new leaf by going to a bowl game.”
But UNC coach Larry Fedora hasn’t mentioned the possibility of a bowl game to his team. Instead, he’s repeated a mantra — be 1-0 this week — that has served the team well during recent wins over Boston College, N.C. State, Virginia and Pittsburgh.
“To be 1-0 this week would be really, really a great thing,” Fedora said. “It will be outstanding. I’m going to stick to it and we’re going to be 1-0 and that’s where all the focus is going to be. I know it’s boring for you guys but that’s the way we’ve got it done and that’s the way we’re going to continue.”
Old Dominion is 8-3 as it transitions from the FCS to Conference USA in 2014, but is just 1-3 against FBS opponents, with road losses to East Carolina (52-38), Maryland (47-10) and Pittsburgh (35-24).
But the Monarchs do have a potent passing attack led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the 2012 Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS.
“There isn’t a team that they haven’t moved the ball up and down on,” UNC associate coach for defense Vic Koenning said. “We’ve been sitting here talking about the St. Louis Rams, greatest show on turf deal, where you had to wait until you got in the red zone to try and stop them. That’s the respect that we have for this offense.”
In many ways, ODU’s spread offense is similar to East Carolina’s. The Pirates put up 55 points on UNC at Kenan Stadium earlier this season, and the coaches hope that the scars from that game has kept the intensity level up in practice this week.
“The last time we probably didn’t respect an opponent we got embarrassed,” Fedora said. “I don’t think that that’s going to happen (today).”
Coincidentally, this year it’s the Monarchs who are ineligible for the postseason, so ODU is treating today’s contest as its bowl game “This is our last game,” coach Bobby Wilder said. “We’re not going to hold anything back.”
But Fedora said that his team is treating this non-conference matchup like any other game, even with the postseason at stake.
“You start thinking about that and you start causing problems for yourself,” Fedora said. “The focus has to be where it’s been; we don’t want to change that. We want to keep everybody in that same mode where we’re all thinking the same way, still doing the things that put us in this position.”