“To be honest, we’ve haven’t talked about a bowl game,” quarterback Marquise Williams told reporters on Monday. “What he’s been preaching is being 1-0 week in and week out. That’s what we focus on and that’s what our main focus is going to be.”
Fedora employed the 1-0 philosophy following UNC’s 27-23 loss to Miami on Oct. 17, according to Williams, who added that his head coach indicated that he should have started that approach a long time ago.
A 1-0 record this weekend would move the Tar Heels above .500 for the first time this season at 6-5 and secure postseason eligibility ahead of the season finale against Duke. Standing in the way is FSC opponent Old Dominion (8-3).
When asked if bowl talk was on the table considering it worked within the 1-0 angle, Fedora shook his head and said, “Nope.”
“It’ll be 1-0 because I haven’t talked about it in the last four weeks so I’m not going to talk about it now,” the second-year UNC head coach said. “These guys know what’s going on. They understand but they know when they come in this building where our focus is going to be. That’s very important that it’s consistent and that we’re not all over the place from week to week.”
The players do understand where they stand, and according to senior defensive end Kareem Martin, the possibility of a bowl game adds even more motivation to Saturday’s penultimate home game.
“It gives us a little bit more to play for,” Martin said. “Every year you’re playing to go to a bowl game. That sixth win is tough. It’s been really tough for us to get this year. We got off to a slow start and to finally be in position to get the sixth win, it just makes this game that much bigger.”
The chaos at the top of the ACC Coastal Division has opened up a wide range of bowl destinations if UNC is able to finish the season 1-1 or 2-0.
While the Tar Heels have been eliminated from an ACC title game appearance, they can still share the division title with a win over Duke. Georgia Tech has finished its conference schedule at 5-3, which effectively removes UNC from the title game equation.
If UNC, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami all finish at 5-3 in the Coastal, the Hokies will advance. Various scenarios exist outside of a five-team tie that present opportunities for the other four teams involved to earn a trip to Charlotte on Dec. 7.
That confusion will likely filter into bowl tie-ins, as the ACC’s one-win rule allows its bowl partners to pick teams within one game of the best record remaining for their respective pick. If UNC wins out to finish 5-3 in the ACC, only No. 2 Florida State (8-0) and No. 7 Clemson (7-1) would have to be selected ahead of the Tar Heels.
The Tigers also play a role in UNC’s bowl fate. If Clemson defeats No. 11 South Carolina in Columbia on Nov. 30, then the Tigers will likely represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. That, of course, improves the potential bowl destinations for the remainder of the league.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta gets the first choice after the Orange Bowl and the Russell Athletic Bowl in next in line. If UNC wins out and Virginia Tech and Miami avoid any upsets, the Hokies and Hurricanes are the odds-on favorites to secure those bowl tie-ins.
Next up is the Sun Bowl. The ACC title game loser cannot fall any further than El Paso, which is why Georgia Tech make consecutive appearances here after losing the ACC title game to Florida State. With a third-straight trip for the Yellow Jackets all but impossible, the next two teams in line would appear to be Duke and UNC.
A win over Wake Forest would give Duke a 9-3 record in this scenario, although the Tar Heels would counter with a 7-5 record, six straight wins and an upset over the Blue Devils.
Next in line is the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, which would take whichever team doesn’t travel to El Paso.
If UNC loses to Duke and finishes 6-6, the Belk Bowl and Music City Bowl in Nashville would be legitimate destinations, although the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport and Military Bowl in Annapolis would still be in the mix, depending on how teams such as Boston College and Maryland close out the season.
Regardless of where UNC could end up, the fact that the Tar Heels are just one win away from extending their season into December would help erase last season’s disappointment.
“We had the record for it last year, but due to the sanctions, we weren’t allowed to go,” Martin said. “Going to a bowl game will finally just put everything behind us with the NCAA investigation. We can finally turn over a new leaf by going to a bowl game.”
All of this bowl talk doesn’t matter, however, if UNC doesn’t go 1-0 this weekend or next.