Orange Bowl: No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 North Carolina
Time: 8 p.m. (Jan. 2) | TV: ESPN | Line: Texas A&M -8 | Total: 65.5
How these teams got here
Texas A&M: The last seven games of the season were a lot better for A&M than the first two weeks of the season. A&M started 2020 with a five-point win over a Vanderbilt team that quickly proved it was by far the most hapless in the SEC. Then the Aggies lost by 28 to Alabama on Oct. 3.
Everything turned around on Oct. 10 when A&M knocked off then-No. 4 Florida 41-38 at home. That game was the first of seven consecutive wins for A&M to close out the season and get on the periphery of the playoff. But A&M didn’t get in, likely because the final six wins all came over teams that weren’t ranked. A good win or two over the last few weeks of the regular season could have boosted A&M’s cause for the top four.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels moved up to No. 5 in the AP poll after three wins to open the season but then lost to Florida State 31-28 on Oct. 17. UNC bounced back with a win over NC State and then promptly lost to Virginia to fall to 4-2.
The Tar Heels climbed back into the top 25 before losing 31-17 to Notre Dame on Nov. 27. Two weeks later, the Tar Heels put together their best performance of the season in a 62-26 demolition of Miami on Dec. 12 to jump over the Hurricanes into the Orange Bowl.
Many of the players that helped North Carolina to that Miami win won’t be in Miami this time. Star RBs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have opted out of the game along with top WR Dyami Brown and leading tackler LB Chaz Surratt. As Carter and Williams have been dominant in 2020, no UNC running back playing Saturday night has more than 12 carries this season.
Players to watch
Texas A&M RB Isaiah Spiller: The sophomore has 176 carries for 993 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. Spiller has rushed for over 100 yards in six of A&M’s nine games this season and has been a factor in every game outside of an 11-carry, 25-yard effort in that Alabama loss.
Spiller will probably get the ball early and often against North Carolina’s defense. He’s had 20 or more carries in A&M’s last three games and in four of the last five. He’s also had at least two catches in each of the last four games, so he should be factor in the passing game as well.
North Carolina WR Dazz Newsome: The senior becomes Sam Howell’s top target without Brown in the lineup. Newsome’s production has declined in 2020 after he had 72 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 TDs in 2019. This season he has 48 catches for 616 yards and five scores and has only topped the 100-yard mark once. That came against Wake Forest when he had 10 catches for 189 yards and two scores.
What’s on the line
Texas A&M: The Aggies are going for a third straight bowl win in their first New Year’s Six bowl appearance. The last time A&M was in a major bowl game was a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2012, the year Johnny Manziel won the Heisman. A win will also ensure that A&M finishes as high or higher than it did in the AP poll that season. The Aggies ended 2012 at No. 5 in the Top 25.
North Carolina: A win could push the Tar Heels into the top 10 of the final AP poll for just the second time in the 2000s. North Carolina’s only other top-10 finish came in 2015 after the team went 11-3 and won the Russell Athletic Bowl. This is North Carolina’s first appearance in a game that’s now part of the New Year’s Six since 2001, when UNC won the Peach Bowl.
Nick Bromberg: Texas A&M -8
Sam Cooper: Texas A&M -8
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