Rutgers vs. North Carolina: Quick Lane Bowl Preview
• Reason to watch: The Quick Lane Bowl has all the elements of the now deceased Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, except one. Rather than matching up a Big Ten team and a MAC team like the Pizza Bowl did, the new version replaced the MAC with the ACC. Good thing this year’s teams, Rutgers and North Carolina, can keep the MACtion spirit alive with a matchup that should feature as many points as a typical Wednesday nighter. The Scarlet Knights and Tar Heels combine to average 68.9 points allowed per game. Although Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has struggled mightily with consistency this season, he should be able to take advantage of a porous North Carolina secondary. Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels’ dual-threat signal-caller enters the bowl game on a hot streak after averaging 322.7 total yards over his last nine games.
• Keep an eye on: Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo (hint: he’s probably wide open behind North Carolina’s secondary). The Tar Heels have allowed 8.8 yards per pass attempt this season, the third-most in the FBS. That bodes rather well for Carroo, who’s an exception big-play threat with an average of 19.7 yards per reception this season. The junior’s 1,043 yards receiving this year were more than three times as many as the Scarlet Knights’ next leading receiver (Andrew Turzilli), so if this game turns into a shootout, Carroo will likely play a big role in it.
• Did you know: Rutgers’ magic number is 193. Nova threw for more than 193 yards in six of the Scarlet Knights’ seven victories this season; he threw from 192 or less in all five of Rutgers’ losses. What’s behind the discrepancy? Turnovers, mostly. Of Nova’s 12 interceptions this year, 10 came in the Scarlet Knights’ defeats.
• Final analysis: The key question for the Tar Heels is which North Carolina team shows up? Inconsistent performance plagued the Tar Heels, creating a 6-6 record that includes wins over Georgia Tech and Duke and losses to North Carolina State and East Carolina (the Pirates hung 70 points on them). The extra preparation time should help North Carolina ensure its players are focused and know the gameplan. A similarly inconsistent Tar Heels team last year rebounded from a regular-season-ending defeat to Duke with a dominant 39-17 victory over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With neither defense in Friday’s matchup capable of regularly producing stops, the outcome could come down to which offense better capitalizes on the opposition’s breakdowns. Whereas Williams can be counted on to reliably move the ball, the same cannot be said for Nova.
• The pick: North Carolina 38, Rutgers 31