MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — North Carolina ran all over Miami in its final regular-season game at Miami. Now Michael Carter and Javonte Williams will try to add to their rushing total on the same field where they set an NCAA record.
The No. 14 Tar Heels (8-3, No. 13 College Football Playoff) will take on No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1, No. 5 CFP) in the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
In just his second season since returning to North Carolina, head coach Mack Brown has the Tar Heels playing in a New Year's Six bowl for the first time since 2001, when UNC defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
North Carolina embarrassed then-No. 9 Miami earlier this month, winning 62-26 in a game that essentially spoiled the Hurricanes' chances of earning an Orange Bowl bid as the highest-ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team outside the top four.
"We wouldn't be in this game unless we had beaten Miami, and Miami was the No. 10 team in the country (in the playoff rankings)," Brown told reporters Sunday after the bowl pairings were announced. "The guys will enjoy preparation for the game. They've already been there. They know the stadium and we'll have tremendous respect for the opponent, so it'll be fun for us."
The game will mark North Carolina's first Orange Bowl appearance in school history.
Brown admitted being "disappointed" in 1997 when his final North Carolina team during his first stint in Chapel Hill finished the regular season 10-1 and was left out of a major bowl. He called the Orange Bowl nod "a huge accomplishment for our program and for our team."
"What you want is verification to your players and your staff that what you're doing is working, and they're reaping a reward at the end of the second year that most people don't get a chance to do," Brown said. "So just the simple fact that we've been chosen and that people are giving our program that much credit at this stage really reinforces what we're trying to do moving forward."
Meanwhile, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher will return to the Orange Bowl for the first time since he led Florida State to a victory over Michigan during the 2016 season.
The destination, while not the game his Aggies had hoped to be playing in, is a familiar one for Fisher, whose teams are undefeated at Hard Rock Stadium.
Fisher is 7-2 in bowl games as a head coach, including a 2-0 record at the Orange Bowl. He's also a perfect 6-0 at Hard Rock Stadium, winning all four meetings between the Seminoles and Hurricanes in South Florida.
He credited Brown for elevating the Tar Heels so quickly.
"To get them in the Orange Bowl and how quick he was there and where that program was when he took over, it's an amazing accomplishment," Fisher told reporters. "Again, but it doesn't surprise you. Everywhere Mack goes, he wins. That's going to be a very well-coached football team who's playing great football and had a great win down there against Miami just a few weeks ago to put them in it, and we're going to have our hands full."
Brown told reporters he believed Fisher's team deserved to be in the playoff, but despite the snub, Fisher said there's "no frustration."
"We're excited to be going to the Orange Bowl," he said. "We're in a New Year's Six game against a great opponent, and we're very happy to be there."
Instead of the playoff, Texas A&M will try to claim its first Orange Bowl victory in school history. The Aggies haven't played in the Orange Bowl since a 19-14 loss to LSU in 1944.
Fisher said he's just grateful for the opportunity.
"It's like having a bad play," Fisher said of missing the playoff. "You get disappointed for a minute and then you play the next play. You move on. That's life. We've had a great opportunity. We've had a great year. We've done great things, and we put ourselves in a position to be in it, but we weren't, so now it's time to move on. You wanted to be in it, but at the same time, we're in the Orange Bowl, man."