Tar Heels, Tigers mark end of eras in Independence Bowl

Monday’s Independence Bowl marks the end of one and era and the beginning of another for both North Carolina and Missouri.

It will be the Tar Heels’ final game under interim coach Everett Withers, as former Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora will take over after the bowl game. North Carolina won five of its first six games under Withers but stumbled down the stretch, losing four of its last six. Withers announced that he’ll be joining Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State after the bowl game.

For Missouri, it will be its final game as a member of the Big 12 Conference. Missouri’s parting gift from the league – the Tigers are headed to the Southeastern Conference along with Texas A&M next season – was being passed over in the Big 12’s bowl pecking order and relegated to a third trip to Shreveport, La., since 2003.

The Tigers lost to Arkansas 27-14 in 2003 and rallied for a 38-31 win over South Carolina in 2005. North Carolina is playing in the Independence Bowl for the first time.

Both teams boast sophomore quarterbacks who put up big numbers, and they could be relied upon to carry the load, because both defenses are tough against the run. North Carolina’s Bryn Renner has passed for 2,769 yards and 23 touchdowns, which ties Chris Keldorf’s school record. Missouri’s James Franklin has been a catalyst for the Tigers’ balanced offense with 2,733 passing yards and 839 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns.

The Tigers (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) closed the regular season with three straight wins to land in a bowl game for a school-record seventh consecutive season. The Tigers haven’t won their last four games of the season since 1965. The late-season success helped make up for a tumultuous stretch in which leading rusher Henry Josey was lost for the season with two torn ligaments and a torn tendon in his left knee and head coach Gary Pinkel was suspended for one game after pleading guilty to a drunk driving charge. Losing Josey proved to be a speed bump for the nation’s No. 12 offense (473.2 yards per game) but the defense was up to the task down the stretch, shutting down Texas in a 17-5 home win and stifling Kansas in a 24-10 win in Kansas City to end the regular season.

The Tar Heels (7-5, 3-5 ACC) are playing in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, their longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. Giovani Bernard has rushed for a North Carolina freshman record 1,222 yards, becoming the first Tar Heel to top 1,000 rushing yards since 1997. With 13 rushing touchdowns, he needs one more to tie the school’s freshman record.

The Tar Heels got some good news when leading receiver Dwight Jones was reinstated to the team. Jones was originally declared ineligible after allowing his name and image to be used to promote a party in his hometown of Burlington, N.C. Jones hauled in a school-record 79 passes for 1,119 this season with 11 going for touchdowns. Bernard and Jones are the first duo in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

The teams have met only twice, with Missouri winning both meetings in 1973 and 1976. The Tigers won the first contest 27-14 in Chapel Hill and won 24-3 at home three years later. North Carolina has not played a Big 12 opponent since a 52-21 home loss to Texas in 2002, and the Tar Heels haven’t beaten a current Big 12 team since a 20-0 win over Kansas in 1986.

TV: 5 p.m., ESPN2

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