UNC coach Mack Brown views Duke's Mayo Bowl as 'new opportunity' for new QB Conner Harrell, others

Tue, Dec 26, 2023

UNC coach Mack Brown views Duke's Mayo Bowl as 'new opportunity' for new QB Conner Harrell, others

CHARLOTTE N.C. (AP) - North Carolina coach Mack Brown has a new moniker for the Duke's Mayo Bowl. He's calling it the "New Opportunity Bowl."

With highly-regarded quarterback Drake Maye and 11 other starters from the beginning of the season not playing because they're preparing for the draft, entering the transfer portal or recovering from injuries, the Tar Heels (8-4) largely will be using Wednesday's game against West Virginia to evaluate young talent and prepare for the future.

"It's hard to get an opportunity to play, and some of these guys have been wanting to play," Brown said. "So it's a lot of new guys."

Maye has been one of the bigger names in college football over the last two seasons and most draft pundits predict the Charlotte-area product will be among the top 10 players selected in April's NFL draft.

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Like many other college stars, he opted out of the bowl to limit risk of injury.

Conner Harrell, who went 25-2 at Thompson High School and was named the player of the year in Alabama as a senior, will be making his first career start when the Tar Heels face the Mountaineers (8-4).

Brown called the 6-foot, 205-pound Harrell a "totally different" quarterback from Maye, saying that while he's not as tall, he does have more speed than Maye - something North Carolina hopes to take advantage of in the run game.

"What we've been doing here for the last two weeks is trying to figure out, because this is Conner's offense, what do we do differently," Brown said. "How much can you change your offensive scheme and still do what you want to do?"

West Virginia cornerback Blaine Bishop said the Mountaineers have been watching cutups of Harrell's high school games because he's only thrown six passes in college.

"We are preparing for the quarterback run game because he's a mobile guy," Bishop said.


West Virginia enters the game with the nation's fourth best rushing attack, averaging 234.4 yards per game. The Mountaineers won't have starting running back CJ Donaldson because of injury, but freshman Jahiem White has shown he's more than an adequate option after running for 792 yards this year while averaging 8.2 yards per carry.

Quarterback Garrett Greene is also a factor in the running game, with 708 yards rushing and 13 TDs on the ground.

That's not good for a Tar Heels team that has struggled at times against the run and will be without leading tackler Cedric Gray.

"We have been up and down against the run," Brown said.


By all accounts, West Virginia has exceeded expectations this season, going 6-3 in the Big 12 Conference after being picked to finish last in the league. The Mountaineers closed the season with wins versus Cincinnati and Baylor.

"We really didn't exceed our expectations for ourselves," Greene said. "We were one play and one quarter away from being 10-2 right now. The expectation was we would win every game. We don't care about the outside noise, whether they say we are going to go 12-0 or 0-12."

Added Bishop: "We played every game this season with a chip on our shoulder."


Perhaps the Duke's Mayo Bowl is best known for the winning coach having a bucket of mayonnaise dumped over his head during the postgame victory celebration.

Both coaches have agreed to participate in the event, although Bishop said West Virginia coach Neal Brown is not a big fan of mayonnaise.

"I want to be one of the guys that dumps the mayonnaise," Bishop said. "Just seeing him go through that, I think that would be really funny to watch."


UNC has developed a reputation of struggling down the stretch over the last two seasons under Brown.

Last year, the Tar Heels started 9-1 only to lose their final four games of the regular season, including the Holiday Bowl to 15th-ranked Oregon. This year, the Tar Heels started 6-0 before stumbling to four losses in the last six games.

"What we have to figure out is why we have had such great starts but why we aren't finishing like we need to," Brown said.


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