We could call this year's Music City Bowl "The Turmoil Bowl" as it pits a UNC team that went through Agentgate and Tutorgate against a Tennessee team under the direction of its third head coach in three seasons.
North Carolina was favored by many to win the ACC, including CollegeFootballPoll.com's preseason forecast which is based on the Congrove Computer Rankings (a.k.a. CCR Top 120). But the Tar Heels faced a wave of NCAA scrutiny in the weeks leading up to the opening game with LSU, ranging from improper benefits to academic misconduct.
When all was said and done, 14 players missed one or more games, seven others missed the entire season, assistant coach John Blake had to resign and agent Gary Wichard was suspended for 9 months by the NFL Players Association. The defense, which was expected to wreak havoc and lead the Tar Heels to the ACC title, became decimated with permanent ineligibility declarations for four players, including standout defensive tackle Marvin Austin who was kicked off the team in October.
Tennessee, in a span of just over 14 months between November 3, 2008 and January 15, 2010, has seen Philip Fulmer get pushed out, Lane Kiffin get hired and annoy most everyone before leaving for USC, and Derek Dooley get hired.
The Vols were forecasted by the computer to go 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the SEC. It didn't miss that prediction by much as they finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the conference.
Somehow, both teams have managed to find themselves in a bowl game and paired with each other. Ironically, these teams were scheduled to have a home-and-home series begin next year, but that was cancelled when the Vols decided to soften the front-end of their schedule while rebuilding the program. As a result, this game has been reported as a sellout with a heavy Tennessee contingent snapping up tickets.
Tennessee arrives here on a 4-game winning streak that allowed it to barely become bowl eligible at 6-6. The victories came against Memphis, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Wildcats are the only bowl team the Vols defeated. Its other wins came against UT-Martin and UAB.
At least North Carolina managed three wins over bowl teams - Clemson, East Carolina and Florida State. The other four wins in its 7-5 season came against Rutgers, Virginia, William & Mary and Duke.
Even with all the suspensions, North Carolina finished fourth in the ACC in total defense and fifth in passing defense. The Tar Heels also finished third in the ACC in passing offense at 267 passing yards per game. Defensive tackle Quinton Coples was the only Tar Heel to receive first-team All-ACC honors.
Tennessee ranks fourth in the SEC in passing offense and tied for second in total interceptions. Senior linebacker Nick Reveiz and sophomore defensive back Prentiss Waggner led the UT defense under the watch of former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray stepped in midway through the season, helping the Vols finish third in the SEC with more than 249 passing yards per game and earning himself SEC Freshman of the Week honors three out of the last four regular season weeks.
North Carolina is making its third consecutive bowl appearance and first in the Music City Bowl where it will try to snap a 3-bowl losing skid. The Tar Heels are 12-15 overall in bowl contests. Butch Davis is 4-2 as a head coach in bowl games. He is 0-2 with North Carolina after going 4-0 with Miami.
Tennessee has a 25-23 bowl record after being trounced 37-14 by Virginia Tech in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, which turned out to be Kiffin's last game as the head man in Knoxville. Derek Dooley's only previous bowl experience as a head coach came in the 2008 Independence Bowl where his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs defeated Northern Illinois.
The Vols are tied for third for the most team bowl appearances in NCAA FBS history.
SEC teams have won 3 of the last 4 matchups of SEC vs. ACC teams in the Music City Bowl, and hold a 3-2 advantage overall. Virginia Tech beat Alabama 38-7 in the first-ever Music City Bowl and Clemson won last season's edition 21-13 over Kentucky. The SEC claimed three Music City Bowl trophies from 2006-2008 with two wins for Kentucky and a rare bowl victory for Vanderbilt.
The computer says North Carolina is favored by 5.32 points to knot the ACC-SEC Music City Bowl series at 3 games apiece.
The game will air on ESPN on Thursday, December 30 at 6:40 p.m. ET.