The 2011 Independence Bowl will be a banner day for the North Carolina Tar Heels football team. They have to feel like they have already won after the NCAA ruled star wide receiver Dwight Jones eligible for this game against Missouri.
Jones has been a huge factor in the Tar Heels offense this season. He has 79 receptions for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns. No one else on the team has more than 650 receiving yards, so he is the first, second and third option in the passing game.
The controversy started last week, when Jones' likeness was used to promote a New Year's Eve party, and the team decided to spend him because they weren't sure if his actions violated NCAA rules.
But the NCAA investigated and found that Jones did nothing wrong, making him eligible to play in this game.
After the flier surfaced Monday on the popular sports website Deadspin.com, Withers and other North Carolina officials began talks with the NCAA about Jones' status. North Carolina announced on Tuesday that it had ruled Jones ineligible, and that it had applied with the NCAA for his reinstatement.
Neither team has been spectacular this season, and Missouri has been better late in the season than North Carolina, but the pressure of trying to perform for their new SEC brethren will drag the Tigers down in this game.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are only playing for pride. They don't have to worry about trying to make a statement to anyone in a new conference, or waving goodbye to all the teams in the Big 12 conference.
Jones is going to be a difference making player in this game. He is the most skilled player on either side, and you know that he will want to leave his mark on the Independence Bowl after all the controversy that has been hovering over him recently.
The Tar Heels will win back-to-back bowl games for the first time since winning the Gator Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl in 1998.