North Carolina Tar Heels: Ranking ALL the Bowl Games

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Nov 8, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers (56) before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

7. 2001 Peach Bowl

John Bunting inherited a good defensive roster when he became the head coach in 2001. There was Award winning Julius Peppers at end, Ryan Sims at tackle, Quincy Monk at linebacker, and former walk-on David Thornton would be the breakout star of the defense.

The offense was still relying on Ronald Curry, but injury continued to dog Curry’s career. The season opener against Oklahoma revealed a new Carolina weapon waiting at quarterback, Darian Durant. Durant brought some spark to the offense in that game, but proved how young he was in others that season. Same could be said of speedy running back Willie Parker. The sophomore was fast but also young.

Bunting’s job was to get a full effort from the defense and have the offense scrape together enough points to win games. He went 7-5 on the season. The team started 0-3 and then blew out Florida State seemingly out of nowhere. That set the stage for a bowl run that ended when North Carolina won its seventh game against SMU in an odd twelfth game before twelve game schedules became the norm.

The reward was the Tar Heels returning to the bowls and going to Atlanta for the first time since 1993. There they faced an Auburn team that would go undefeated in 2004, but many of the same faces were there. You would see Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, and Karlos Dansby all at work in this game.

The Tar Heel defense started early as Joey Evans recovered a fumble that led to a sweeping run by Parker in the red zone. The defenses kept things quiet until late in the second quarter. A long run of over forty yards by Parker and a big reception by receiver Sam Aiken took the Tar Heels down to field goal range and a 10-0 lead at the half.

The game would not be a Curry bowl game if the senior quarterback was not heard from. As he had sprung the Las Vegas Bowl with a big run, he now uncorked a fifty plus yard touchdown gallop. Unlike the San Diego State game, Curry had to use his blockers but he had Parker and Chesley Borders to get him to the end zone.

The game did not have much pizazz but it had plenty of big plays by offense and defense. Down 16-0, Auburn would not give up yet. North Carolina even faked a punt to keep a third quarter drive going. In the fourth quarter Auburn would find ten points, but it would not be enough as the Heels ushered out Curry with a win and ushered in the Bunting era with a bowl win.

Most of the talent of this team were seniors and so Bunting found rebuilding difficult for a first time head coach. He would return to the bowls only once during Durant’s senior season in 2004. Auburn would fire its defensive coaching staff and bring in Gene Chizik to use the young core of the 2001 team to go undefeated in 2004.

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