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by Sharon Thorsland

North Carolina heads west to take on 15th ranked Oregon in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday night, and the Tar Heels will be without several key players on both sides of the football. Star receiver Josh Downs is headed to the NFL and is sitting this one out, and several others are transferring, including corner-back Tony Grimes and two other key members of its secondary. The Ducks (9-3) will also be down a few players, but head into the match-up a 14.5 point favorite. Kick-off is set for 8:00pm on WBT.

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These teams are actually quite similar. Both have excellent quarterbacks and potent offenses, and both also feature pretty lousy defenses! Oregon got a boost when star quarterback Bo Nix announced he would return for the bowl game and another season. The Auburn transfer has thrown for nearly 3,400 yards and 27 touchdowns this season with just six interceptions. Nix directs a high scoring offense that puts up nearly 37 points per game. His top target is receiver Troy Franklin, who has 56 catches, eight of them touchdowns, and stretches the field – he’s averaging 15.5 yards per catch. The Ducks also have an impressive ground game led by sophomore Bucky Irving. He’s racked up 906 rushing yards with three touchdowns and is averaging a whopping 6.3 yards per carry! That’s not good new for a UNC defense that statistically was the ACC’s worst in both yards and points allowed. And as we all know by now, stopping the run has long been a sore spot for the Tar Heels.

The good news is, Oregon’s defense is pretty bad as well. Their pass rush is nearly non-existent (16 sacks in 12 games), they give up a ton of yards and points per game (ranking 75th and 76th in the nation respectively), and they gave up 268 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in their last outing against Oregon State. So UNC’s potent offense definitely has a chance to make some noise against this group, even without Downs. Led by star quarterback Drake Maye, the Tar Heels are averaging over 35 points and 475 yards per game. Maye has been stellar except in the final three games of the season when he was pressured consistently. The red shirt freshman has thrown for over 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns and he’s also picked up 653 more yards and seven scores on the ground. Maye will no doubt be a challenge for this Oregon defense, which is giving up over 260 passing yards per game, that’s 107th in the country. And they’ll be playing without three starters on defense, including star linebacker Noah Sewell and top cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who are both headed for the NFL.