UNCs Sean Tapley goes over an East Carolina defender.

Sometimes a victory in a bowl game is a way to put the cherry on top of a great college football season.

And sometimes it’s an opportunity to salvage one.

That’s the chance UNC (6-6) will have today when the Tar Heels take on Cincinnati (9-3) in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium (3:20 p.m., ESPN). Tar Heel mentor Larry Fedora has never had a losing season in his five previous campaigns as head coach.

A Triangle team is in the bowl for the third straight season, as Duke participated last year and N.C. State the year before.

The Bearcats, taking the spot of the American Athletic Conference, are in the rare position of being “defending champions” of a mid-level bowl, as they came back to beat Duke 48-34 last season. Quarterback Brendon Kay was the MVP after completing 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards and four TDs.

UNC, in the Belk Bowl for the third time in six seasons, is 0-3 all-time in the bowl. The ACC is 6-5 all-time.


Both teams are coming off tough losses that ended hot streaks. UNC had won five straight before its 27-25 loss to Duke at Kenan Stadium, while Cincinnati won six straight before falling 31-24 at home to Louisville.

“Our guys have done a good job of focusing on football, getting where they needed to be and doing what they needed to do,” Fedora said. “At our practices the energy level has been good and the focus has been good all the way.”

Tar Heel QB Marquise Williams has completed 107 of 184 passes for 1527 yards and 14 TDs, also rushing 102 times for 490 yards and six TDs since taking over the job for the injured Bryn Renner. Eric Ebron, playing his last UNC game at tight end before entering the NFL draft, has 55 catches for 895 yards and three TDs.

“(The Tar Heels) changed their offense a little bit (with Williams at QB),” Cincinnati’s first-year coach Tommy Tuberville said. “They’re an up-tempo team that will go fast and give you problems with alignments. … But we’ll have some different things for them and they’ll have some different things for us.”

Kay has completed 247 of 260 passes for 3121 yards and 22 TDs with 11 interceptions. The Bearcats’ Hosey Williams has 609 yards and four TDs on 105 carries, while Shaq Washington has 75 catches for 747 yards and a TD.

“They’re a spread team and they like to air it out,” UNC defensive end Kareem Martin said of the Bearcats. “They have a good quarterback. He’s made a lot of great throws I’ve seen on film. We’ve got to make him uncomfortable.”

UNC, which is listed as a 2½-point favorite, leads the all-time series 2-0.