MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Texas A&M was hoping for a berth in the College Football Playoff. An Orange Bowl spot against North Carolina will be its consolation prize.
The Aggies, who were one spot away from a spot in the national semifinals and finished fifth in the final CFP rankings, are heading to the Orange Bowl for the first time in 77 years. It will be North Carolina’s first time in the Orange Bowl, and the first meeting between the schools.
The matchup is Jan. 2 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond wasted no time when the playoff matchups were announced to reveal this thoughts: “JOKE,” he tweeted.
It’s a clear letdown for Texas A&M, which has won seven consecutive games – tied for the fifth-longest such streak in the country – and lost only once this season, that being a 52-24 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Alabama in the Aggies’ second game this fall.
They then rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Florida and kickstart this winning streak, but it wasn’t enough to earn a playoff berth.
“Seven straight SEC wins. Some schools ain’t even playing seven games,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said after his team finished the regular season with a win over Tennessee on Saturday. “I don’t care what league you’re in. If you’re going to pick the best four teams, we’re one of them.”
The committee disagreed, choosing one-loss Notre Dame (10-1) over one-loss Texas A&M (8-1) for the last spot. Notre Dame’s best win was against Clemson, with the Tigers then winning the rematch in the ACC title game on Saturday. Texas A&M’s best win was against Florida. Perhaps ironically, the fact that Notre Dame has already beaten North Carolina – another CFP-ranked team – seemed to be the win that doomed the Aggies’ playoff chances.
“Very similar resumes,” CFP selection committee chair Gary Barta said on ESPN during the playoff announcement broadcast. “But in the end the committee felt like Notre Dame had earned its way there based on the complete analysis of the resume and that probably came down to having an additional win against a ranked team.”
Putting North Carolina in the Orange Bowl was the easy part; the Tar Heels were locked into the game because they were the ACC’s highest-ranked team in the final CFP standings besides playoff-bound Clemson and Notre Dame. North Carolina won 62-26 at Miami on Dec. 12, a win that allowed the Tar Heels to leapfrog the Hurricanes in the CFP standings – otherwise, Miami would have likely been in the Orange Bowl on its home field.
“This would be an unbelievable accomplishment,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said after the regular-season finale when asked about the prospects of getting to the Orange Bowl, arguably the biggest postseason game in the program’s history. The Tar Heels have been in the New Year’s Six bowls before with a pair of Sugar Bowl appearances in the 1940s, five Peach Bowls – most recently 2001 – and a Cotton Bowl to end the 1949 season.
This will be just the seventh January bowl game for North Carolina.
Some of what to know about the Orange Bowl:
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH
North Carolina has the No. 4 offense in the country, averaging 556.6 yards per game. Texas A&M has the No. 4 rushing defense in the country, yielding just 92.2 yards on the ground per contest.
For now, the plan is to cap attendance at the game to roughly 13,000 fans, which is consistent with the protocols put in place by the Miami Dolphins for their games and Hurricanes games at Hard Rock Stadium this season. The 13,000-fan figure represents 20% capacity of the stadium, which will also play host to the CFP national championship game on Jan. 11.
The Orange Bowl coaches certainly know how to end seasons with victories. Fisher is 7-2 all-time in bowl games. Brown is 14-8 in the postseason.
For Fisher, it’s a return to a stadium where he’s gone 6-0 – including a pair of Orange Bowl victories. He went 4-0 at Miami when he was at Florida State, plus guided the Seminoles to Orange Bowl wins over Northern Illinois to end the 2012 season and Michigan to end the 2016 season.
Among the few blemishes on Fisher’s resume from those years at Florida State: He went 0-2 against North Carolina, the Tar Heels winning both of those matchups by identical 37-35 scores.
Texas A&M would finish 9-1 with a win, which would be the Aggies’ best record since going 10-0-1 in 1994. North Carolina won the Military Bowl last season and is seeking bowl victories in consecutive seasons for the first time since winning four straight from 1995 through 1998.