Bowl Breakdown: Music City
North Carolina's running game is in disarray due to injuries and ineligibility
Tennessee turned the corner when freshman Tyler Bray took over as the starter
The Heels have overcome their share of adversity, but how much is too much?
North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. (ESPN)
Reason to watch: This is the matchup Tennessee paid $750,000 to wipe off its schedule for the next two seasons. The Vols were set to travel to Chapel Hill in 2011, the Tar Heels to Knoxville in 2012, but Tennessee fought to move the series to later in the decade in an effort to make its schedule easier. When North Carolina refused, Tennessee had to buy out the series. The response from Tennessee fans wasn't pretty, prompting athletic director Mike Hamilton to push for the matchup with North Carolina in Nashville.
Keep an eye on: North Carolina's running game. Anthony Elzy's rise from second-string fullback to starting running back gave the Heels a dependable ball-carrier in a season that saw Johnny White and heralded freshman Giovani Bernard injured, Ryan Houston redshirted and Shaun Draughn limited by eligibility issues and injury. But with Elzy not making the trip to Nashville due to academic issues, the running game again becomes a problem for North Carolina. The bulk of the carries should go to the senior Draughn, who is expected to be fully healthy, but no other player on the roster has more than nine carries this season.
Did you know: North Carolina is making its third straight bowl appearance, but the first outside the state of North Carolina after playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte the last two years. Meanwhile, this will be the fourth Tennessee stadium the Volunteers have appeared in this season. Along with Neyland Stadium, they also traveled to Memphis' Liberty Bowl Stadium and took on Vanderbilt in Vanderbilt Stadium.
Final analysis: Tennessee turned the corner after Tyler Bray supplanted Matt Simms at quarterback. The freshman threw 11 touchdowns to four interceptions as the Vols rattled off four straight wins to become bowl eligible, but three of those opponents ranked 80th or worse in total defense. The Tar Heels defense would be the best Bray has faced as a starter, but the Heels took a big hit when they lost star linebacker Bruce Carter to a torn ACL. North Carolina has overcome more than its share of adversity this season, but how much is too much? Expect the Vols to feed off a heavily pro-Tennessee crowd and cap coach Derek Dooley's first season with a bowl win.
The pick: Tennessee 21, North Carolina 17
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
North Carolina: CB Kendric Burney -- Suspensions and injuries make Burney the top pro-prospect on the field for North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. He's an opportunistic defensive back with solid ball skills and offers potential as a No. 2 cornerback in the NFL. Grade: Third-round prospect.
Tennessee: WR Denarius Moore -- NFL scouts graded Moore as a street free agent before the season, but the senior has moved into the late rounds after a career year. He's got good size and the big-play ability that strikes fear into opponents. Moore is a threat to take it the distance any time the ball is in his hands and is a developmental prospect who projects as a fourth receiver at the next level. Grade: Fifth-round prospect.