Baylor (9-3) vs North Carolina (11-2)
When: Tuesday, December 29th 2015
Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
Time: 5:30 ET | TV: ESPN
The North Carolina Tar Heels look to rebound from losing the ACC Championship Game when they take on injury-plagued Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. North Carolina lost their season opener to South Carolina 17-13, but reeled off 11 straight victories before losing to Clemson 45-37. The Tar Heels have won 11 games four other times in their history, but never 12. Quarterback Marquise Williams is one of five ACC players in history to accumulate more than 10,000 yards of offense in their career. Williams threw 21 touchdowns this season and 12 of them in the last six games of the season while getting intercepted only twice in that span. The 6-2, 225-pound senior has also rushed for 867 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, and has been responsible for a school-record 94 touchdowns in his career. Running back Elijah Hood is another reason the Tar Heels are flying on offense. He’s rushed for 1,345 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and both he and Williams are averaging over six yards per carry. North Carolina has scored 26 or more points in every game since the opener. The defense is much improved from last year when they allowed 39 points a game. This year, they have that down to just 22.6 points against which ranks 33rd in FBS.
The Baylor Bears come into this bowl game with injuries at all three skill positions and are on their third quarterback. Seth Russell went down in week 7 and is out for the season after throwing for 29 touchdowns to lead the top-ranked offense in the country. Freshman Jarrett Stidham took over and did very well throwing for 12 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions, but broke his ankle against Oklahoma State and he is very doubtful. That leaves the duties to sophomore Chris Johnson who only threw 38 passes this season and completed just 39.5% of them. He will be without this year’s Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman (74 receptions, 1,363 yards and a nation-leading 20 touchdowns), who has been ruled out due to a sports hernia. It doesn’t end there. Leading rusher Shock Linwood, who rushed for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns in the pass-happy offense, will not play against North Carolina due to a broken foot. That leaves Johnson with KD Cannon (46 catches, 828 yards, six TDs) and Jay Lee (36, 726, 8) as his top targets. Johnny Jefferson, who rushed for 158 yards in the regular-season finale against Texas and has 701 overall, will lead the running attack with Linwood out. If Seth Russell stayed healthy all season I think this Baylor team would have been in the playoffs. Stidham was pretty good, but without either of them and Coleman and Linwood, they’re in trouble.
I think you know where I’m going here. Baylor is all about offense and they’ll find a tough time generating it against an improved Carolina defense. Williams should have a field day against the 76th ranked passing defense today. I think the Tar Heels roll.
Pick: North Carolina -3.5