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December 11, 2009
Tar Heel players make no excuses
North Carolina's players naturally would have preferred a more exotic destination for this year's bowl game than a return to Charlotte and the Meineke Car Care Bowl. However, to a man, the UNC players admitted responsibility for their postseason fate.
"We're very fortunate to get to go to the Meineke again. They took care of us last year, and everybody kind of wants to point the finger and say we should have been in a better bowl game, but we did that to ourselves," said junior cornerback Kendric Burney.
"We're happy about that fact that we're playing a good Pittsburgh team who has lost its last two games, so you know they're going to come into the bowl game definitely on their high horse, so we're definitely looking forward to a good show," he added.
"Everybody is not really satisfied in our play this season," said junior quarterback T.J. Yates. "There were some games that we left out there, and we've gotten some time to kind of rest (over the past 10 days), just think about the whole season, and kind of recuperate a little bit."
Following UNC's loss in the regular season finale to N.C. State---a loss that cost the Tar Heels a shot at playing in Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl---the Tar Heels still figured they had a shot at playing in Nashville's Music City Bowl, but Florida State's selection by the Gator Bowl, despite a 6-6 regular season record, bumped UNC farther down the list.
"It is what it is. If we had gone out every Saturday and won, that would have answered the question by itself, but we got stuck in the bowl that we're at, and hey, I'm excited." said sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn. "We're in Charlotte, and the fans are not too far away from us, so I'm just going to go out there and have fun."
"I think everybody is very, very energized and ready to get out there on that field again," said Yates. "It's kind of like your final, going into final exams. I've got to prove myself. I know I can play better. Even my teammates know I'm better, and I've kind of just got to prove it on December 26."
"We're actually pretty calm about it (the Meineke Bowl selection), because they treated us well last year, and that's like playing another home game for us, so we're definitely looking forward to the opportunity to playing a good Pitt team pretty much at home again," added Burney.
Burney, like the rest of the UNC players, had no vision of Charlotte when they began training camp this past August.
Like all competitive players, Burney and the rest of the Tar Heels had their vision on landing at the top of the mountain, or in this case, the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Realistically, once that mountain wasn't reached, a team has to look at things to be proud of, and winning four straight games in October and November---including upsets of Virginia Tech and Miami---and getting back to a bowl game, any bowl game, is reason to have pride.
"At the beginning of the season, our bowl prediction was that we wanted to go to a BCS bowl," Burney said. "Every team in the country feels like every year you want to make a bigger stride to your record, but you can only look back and blame ourselves and point our fingers at (not taking advantage of) the opportunities that we gave ourselves. If you want to be in a BCS bowl, we should have won a few more games."
"We're just loving it (that we're going back to a bowl)," Burney continued. "We're having fun, and it's one more chance to go out there---our last time with some of our seniors and some (juniors) that may declare (for the NFL)---to play together."
Given Carolina's opponent in the Meineke game---a Pittsburgh team that could have easily reached the BCS themselves had a few things gone a little bit differently---there's no reason to think that the game itself in Charlotte isn't going to be worthy of some legitimate bowl hype.
"They (Pittsburgh) lost three games to some good teams, and most of the games that they lost were very close games, so I think we're going to have a dogfight out there," said junior defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
"I think this is another opportunity to show that the Carolina football program, how better we're getting against a good team like Pitt," added Quinn.
Given UNC's recent success against ranked teams, the Tar Heel players, particularly its veterans, have to step up once again in terms of maturity and help everyone let go of all the bowl distractions and the 'where we should have gone' discussion.
"That favors us good when we play against ranked teams, so I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Burney. "We're playing a team that just as easily could have beaten a No. 5 in the country Cincinnati team, so its great competition and we're definitely looking forward to it."