35 Bowls in 24 Days: Independence Bowl

UNC is gunning for their eighth win of the season -- same for Missouri

We’re almost done with our first week of three and a half weeks of bowl previews, and that means we’re getting the smaller schools out of the way and getting to the big boys! So let’s get to our next bowl — the first one that features two teams from the bigger BCS conferences.

More: See the other bowl games

Missouri Tigers (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5, 3-5 ACC), Monday, Dec. 26, 2011, 5 p.m. [ESPN]

It has been a long and tumultuous year for UNC, beginning with the firing of head coach Butch Davis just before the season began. Interim Everett Withers will coach his final game as the leader of the Tar Heels on Monday, as new coach Larry Fedora will take over when the season ends. Withers will depart for Ohio State, where he will be Urban Meyer’s assistant head coach.

Finding a bright spot in this season can’t be easy for North Carolina fans. Their best win of the year came in Week 3 when they beat Virginia 28-17 in Chapel Hill. After that game, UNC only had four wins the rest of the way and lost four of six to finish the regular season. But you have to watch out for a squad like UNC — a team that is looking to salvage a bad season in one night, and will go all-out to win the bowl game.

Running back Giovani Bernard is one of the reasons why the Tar Heels may pull off the upset. The freshman ran for 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns, having his moments of brilliance along the way. There’s also wide receiver Dwight Jones, whose 79 catches was a school-record (he averages 14.2 yards per reception).

Jones had a run-in with the NCAA when his name turned up on a flyer advertising for his New Year’s Eve birthday party. It included a slew of possible violations, including comped shots and a $500 cash giveaway (listed right on the flyer!) But the NCAA has cleared him to play, even though it sounds kind of shady.

OK, it sounds really shady.

Missouri enters the game as a five-point favorite, and they want to win one final game before departing for the SEC. They’ll be right in the middle of SEC country for this game (which is played in Shreveport, La.), and it will give them the perfect opportunity to send the message to the SEC that they’re in town and ready for the challenge.

But it hasn’t been easy sledding for the Tigers, who have the No. 12-ranked offense with an average of 472.4 yards gained per game. This young offense can be very good, with totals of 69, 52 and 39 points scored in the regular season. Three of their five losses were to ranked opponents, and the other two were to Baylor and Arizona State (each of which were playing very good football at the time they played Mizzou).

Their key to victory will be to not give the Tar Heels the feeling that they can win this game. UNC has been hit in the mouth a lot this season, and an early deficit may give the Tar Heels that “Here we go again” feeling. This will be possible if Missouri quarterback James Franklin continues to be the dual-threat leader that he has been all year. The sophomore notched 2,733 passing yards and 839 rushing yards, and a total of 33 touchdowns during the regular season (20 passing TDs, 13 rushing TDs).

This might not be the cleanest football of the bowl season, but there should be plenty of points scored in the first meeting between these two teams since 1976.

My prediction: Missouri 41, North Carolina 34

Past Days: Day 5 | Day 4 | Day 3 | Day 2 | Day 1

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