Three turnovers committed, none gained. No big plays in the kicking game.
It’s tough to win a game with those particulars, and sure enough, the Tar Heels fell to Stanford 25-23 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas.
“The bowl games we saw that week came down to a couple of things,” Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora said. “The teams that won got the turnovers and made game-changing plays in special teams.”
And so the Tar Heels conclude their 2016 season with an 8-5 record and how have the contrasts of an 11-1 regular season in 2015 with an 8-4 ledger one year later—with many of the same players. The difference was one play here, one play there.
“You don’t flush it,” Fedora said of the process of moving on to 2017, his sixth season at Carolina. “You let it eat at you the whole rest of the year until you play again. That’s what you do. If it means enough to you it’ll eat at you until you do step out there again.
“I hope our guys can still feel this feeling they have in their gut right now and I hope they never forget it. It makes you a better person, it really does. You can lay down and cry about it, or you can get up and bust your ass and be a better football player because of it.”
Fedora and the Tar Heels are entering an important juncture.
They’re losing some excellent seniors but are anxious to see if a roster no longer burdened by scholarship restrictions can self-perpetuate.
Junior QB Mitch Trubisky, who has started just one season, is considering entering the NFL Draft, and already junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones has announced he’s leaving for the pros.
Defensive line coach Tray Scott is leaving for a position at Ole Miss.
The defense played its best game of the year against Stanford, and it would be immensely valuable if that side of the ball could take some load off the offense needing to score 35 points every week.
How will Elijah Hood, who missed the bowl game because of unspecified medical reasons, bounce back next August?
Here are some dates to note for 2017:
February 1, National Signing Day.
Week of Feb. 27, Spring practice opens.
April 7-8, Lettermen’s Weekend with golf on Friday, banquet that evening and spring game on Saturday.
Sept. 2, season opener at home vs. California. Carolina’s other three non-league games are at Old Dominion on Sept. 16, home vs. Notre Dame on Oct. 7 and home vs. Western Carolina Nov. 18. The Tar Heels’ cross-division opponent is Louisville at home on Sept. 9. The full ACC schedule has yet to be announced.
Sept. 9, 25-year reunion of the 1992 team that finished 9-3 and beat Mississippi State 21-17 in the Peach Bowl. More details on all of these events to come.