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Sam Howell, UNC Demolish Temple 55-13 in 2019 Military Bowl

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2019

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell looks to pass against Temple during the first half of the Military Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The North Carolina Tar Heels completed their first winning season since 2016 with a 55-13 victory over the Temple Owls in the 2019 Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.

UNC's win marked its third in a row and put an exclamation point on an impressive 7-6 season, while Temple finished 8-5 for the second consecutive campaign.

Quarterback Sam Howell capped a historic individual season with another strong performance for the Tar Heels that saw him add to his single-season FBS record for touchdown passes by a true freshman.

The North Carolina defense stepped up in a big way as well by holding Temple to 272 yards of total offense and forcing two turnovers.

Notable Stats

Sam Howell, QB, UNC: 25-of-34 for 294 YDS, 3 TD, 0 INT; 3 CAR for 53 YDS, 1 REC TD

Javonte Williams, RB, UNC: 14 CAR for 85 YDS; 3 REC for 24 YDS

Beau Corrales, WR, UNC: 4 REC for 82 YDS

Dyami Brown, WR, UNC: 5 REC for 87 YDS, 1 TD

Dazz Newsome, WR, UNC: 8 REC for 71 YDS, 2 TD

Anthony Russo, QB, TEM: 12-of-20 for 128 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT

Re'Mahn Davis, RB, TEM: 15 CAR for 36 YDS, 1 TD; 2 REC for 44 YDS, 1 TD

Jadan Blue, WR, TEM: 8 REC for 92 YDS

Mack Brown, Howell Leading UNC into Bright Future

Few knew what to expect when Mack Brown returned to the sidelines this season for the first time since leaving Texas in 2013, but the things are off to a good start, as Brown led the Tar Heel to a 7-6 record and a Military Bowl win.

The bowl win marks the 14th of Brown's coaching career, and it could signal the beginning of a fruitful run for a UNC team that nearly upset undefeated Clemson earlier in the season.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism moving forward is the presence of Howell, who threw for three touchdowns and caught another in Friday's victory en route to being named the Military Bowl MVP.

Two of Howell's touchdown passes came in the first half, including this juggling catch by Dazz Newsome late in the second quarter to extend UNC's lead to 17-6:

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

The concentration on this catch! 😲 https://t.co/BSPuJH4HzU

That second touchdown pass gave Howell 37 on the season and put him in some elite company in terms of ACC quarterbacks.

Per Inside Carolina, Howell is third in ACC history in single-season touchdown passes, and he reached his number in fewer games than the top two names on the list—current NFL starters and former national championship winners Deshaun Watson and Jameis Winston:

InsideCarolina @InsideCarolina

Sam Howell’s 37 touchdown passes this season are the most by any QB in ACC history through 13 games. Deshaun Watson (41) and Jameis Winston (40) set their records in 15 and 14 games, respectively.

Howell added another touchdown pass in the second half for 38 on the season and even made a two-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Rontavius Groves.

Given everything he accomplished this season, Taylor Vippolis of Inside Carolina provided a fairly obvious and accurate assessment of Howell:

Taylor Vippolis @tvippolis

Sam Howell is good at football. Like really, really good.

Howell is clearly the best UNC quarterback since Mitchell Trubisky, and considering what he was able to do as a true freshman, he is well on his way to perhaps becoming the best quarterback in the history of the program.

At the very least, Antwan V. Staley of The Riot Report believes Howell makes the Tar Heels top contenders to play for an ACC championship next season:

Antwan V. Staley @antwanstaley

UNC is going to be a force especially with Sam Howell under center. They're likely the early favorites in the Coastal next year

Knocking Clemson from its perch atop the ACC won't be easy since the Tigers have now won five straight ACC titles, but North Carolina may have a chance after nearly beating Clemson earlier this season.

If Howell progresses as anticipated in 2020, the Tar Heels may be relevant on the national stage as well.