The buildup for a showdown between the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 17 Baylor Bears in the Russell Athletic Bowl should have been incredible, perhaps with some suggesting it had the potential to be the best bowl game of the year.
Injuries, as they always do, had something to say about the matter.
The Bears head to Orlando without two top quarterbacks, a top running back and arguably the nation's top receiver in a game that could get out of hand quickly.
No matter the outcome, it's hard to discredit 11-win North Carolina on the heels of changes producing one of the best years in program history and a top-tier offense that would have matched a healthy Baylor attack blow for blow.
Sans star players or not, two ranked teams collide where anything could happen. Here's everything to know.
When: Tuesday, December 29, at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: North Carolina (-2.5)
Team Injury Reports
|Sam Smiley||S||Out for season|
|T.J. Jiles||CB||Out indefinitely|
|Joe Jackson||LB||Out for season|
|Will Dancy||G||Out for season|
|Source: USA Today|
|Corey Coleman||WR||Out Tues|
|Chris Johnson||QB||Prob Tues|
|Jarrett Stidham||QB||Doub Tues|
|Shock Linwood||RB||Out Tues|
|Seth Russell||QB||Out for season|
|Source: USA Today|
Injury reports courtesy of USA Today.
Baylor's going to get the headlines for obvious reasons, but North Carolina deserves just as many.
The Tar Heels have a shot at finishing with a program-best 12 wins this year after sweeping ACC play and just missing on taking down No. 1 Clemson to close the season, 45-37.
For those counting, North Carolina rattled off all 11 wins in a row behind the efforts of senior quarterback Marquise Williams, who completed 61.4 percent of his passes with 2,829 yards and 21 touchdowns with another 867 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rusher.
Williams is in no way narrow-minded about the accomplishments, either. He only offsets the sting of missing out on a major bowl by pointing out what it could mean for the program in the future, as soon as next year.
"Last year Oklahoma and Clemson played in this game and that's two of the best teams in the country right now," Williams said, according to ESPN.com. "It's an opportunity and it's going to be fun."
Right now, Williams simply has to take care of business while taking care of the football and leaning on leading rusher Elijah Hood, who totaled 1,345 yards and 17 touchdowns to lead the team.
Perhaps the biggest key comes on the other side of the ball, where the defense, after hardly being challenged most of the year, cannot afford to fall into the trap of thinking a wounded Baylor offense won't come out swinging for the fences.
Nothing to Lose
Everything looked gravy for the Bears.
The team sat well in the race in the College Football Playoff by starting the season 8-0. Then starting quarterback Seth Russell went down with a neck injury. Backup Jarrett Stidham went down shortly after. Injuries ended up claiming running back Shock Linwood and star wideout Corey Coleman as well while the Bears skidded to a 1-3 finish.
Then came the news from John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald:
Some perspective: Russell had thrown 29 scores to six picks. Stidham had looked good with 12 to two. Linwood still leads the team in rushing with 1,329 yards and 10 scores. Few in the nation come close to Coleman, who sits at 74 catches, 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Not to say Baylor cannot compete. Running back Johnny Jefferson has proven his worth with 710 yards and five scores. KD Cannon and Jay Lee have six and eight touchdowns, respectively.
The biggest concern is Chris Johnson under center, who has managed just three touchdowns to two interceptions while leading the Bears to 19 points per game over his two starts.
With plenty of time for the new-look unit to prepare, though, Baylor might have enough firepower to surprise.
It's a shame the globe won't get to see these two go at it with all systems up and running.
What the globe will get, though, is a sneak peek at the future of the Baylor program and a red-hot Tar Heels team setting the tone for future iterations of what should be an ACC contender each year from here on out.
Look for Williams to go out with a bang. The Baylor defense has always hinged on the offense posting wild numbers, but without it, the Bears' finish to the season speaks for itself.
Baylor won't have an answer for the versatile Williams, nor will the hobbled unit be able to keep pace.
Prediction: North Carolina 44, Baylor 35