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The great of Tennessee is going to be decked out in white and orange with fans screaming the lyrics to Rocky Top at the tops of their lungs on Thursday, as the Tennessee Volunteers will essentially play host to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Music City Bowl Matchup: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Date: Thursday, December 30th, 6:30 ET
Location: LP Field, Nashville, TN
Music City Bowl Line: Tennessee pk
Tar Heels Notes: Give Head Coach Butch Davis some credit for really surging through this year in spite of the fact that he lost a ton of players due to ineligibility right at the outset of the season. The men in baby blue really could have just curled into a ball and died, but they continued to fight to make it here to the Music City Bowl. They were clearly playing in the better half of the ACC, as the Coastal Division provided a ton of challenges. This was still a very respectable club offensively this year, averaging 335.0 yards and 22.9 points per game allowed, but there just wasn't enough here to be the truly dominating force that we were expecting at the start of the season. Offensively, QB TJ Yates did a great job without really having a ton of help. He threw for 3,184 yards and 18 TDs against eight picks, and though those numbers aren't exactly screaming at you, he was a much maligned signal caller before this year and has seemed to win over some of the faithful in Chapel Hill. WR Dwight Jones was the only man in this offense that caught more than 30 passes or had more than 400 yards this year. He snared 57 balls for 895 yards. RB Johnny White had 720 yards on the ground and visited the end zone seven times.
Volunteers Notes: If you want to talk about some fantastic coaching jobs though, you really have to talk about Head Coach Derek Dooley. Dooley was a very, very late hire in Knoxville this year, as he was still the man in charge of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs until deep into the recruiting season. Though that may ultimately cost the boys from Rocky Top down the road, it is clear that Dooley knows what he is doing and is capable of eventually turning this program back around into prominence. He pushed the perfect button in the final four games of the season and gave up on QB Matt Simms, instead electing to go to QB Tyler Bray. Bray promptly dropped 102 points in two games against the Memphis Tigers and Mississippi Rebels, and he never looked back down the stretch. Bray threw for 1,537 yards and 14 TDs against seven picks. The only thing really working against him this year was his completion percentage, which was an iffy 54.7. RB Tauren Poole had 994 yards on the ground this year with 11 scores. The top receiver was WR Denarius Moore, who caught 43 passes for 912 yards, a whopping 21.2 yards per catch average. Moore scored nine times on the campaign.
The Final Word: Though North Carolina might be the more talented team (and certainly would be the more talented team if not for all of the suspensions), it just isn't going to be able to overcome the red hot Volunteers in this one. The men from Rocky Top have a renewed sense of winning right now that came with that four game roll at the end of the season, and anything less than a Music Bowl betting triumph would be a disappointment.
Music City Bowl Free Pick: Tennessee pk
Music City Bowl Prediction: Tennessee 28 – North Carolina 26