NCF Nation: 2010 Music City Bowl preview

North Carolina enters the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl undermanned once again, but the Tar Heels are determined to win with what they have. With the game in Nashville, UNC will also have to overcome what should amount to a home-field advantage for Tennessee. Here’s a closer look at the Music City Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: The backups. With North Carolina starting tailback Anthony Elzy suspended, Shaun Draughn is the only proven runner remaining on the roster. His backup will be Hunter Furr, whose career-high is 27 yards. Elzy will not compete because he failed to meet his obligations as a student-athlete at UNC. The Tar Heels will also be without starting offensive guard Alan Pelc and starting linebacker Bruce Carter, both of whom are injured. Travis Bond, a sophomore, is Pelc's backup at right guard, but the problem extends to center, where Pelc was the backup to Cam Holland. At linebacker, Herman Davidson, a career reserve, is No. 2 behind Carter. There could be some shuffling at linebacker and offensive line as a result, and the Heels can’t afford to have Draughn get hurt again.

WHAT TO WATCH: Turnovers. These teams are so evenly matched on paper that one slip-up could be the difference. The Tar Heels have committed 15 turnovers in five losses this year and turned the ball over just six times in their seven wins (three of those six were in the victory at Rutgers).

WHY TO WATCH: To see if North Carolina can squeeze one more win out of a roster that hasn’t been at full strength all year. This team has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions, yet somehow still found a way to win seven games.

PREDICTION: UNC 21, Tennessee 17. The experience of UNC quarterback T.J. Yates will be enough to overcome the Vols’ home-field atmosphere, and North Carolina’s defense -- even without Carter -- will be good enough to force true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray into some mistakes.
The bowl season for the SEC kicks off Thursday at 6:40 p.m. ET when Tennessee plays what will amount to a home game in Nashville against North Carolina.

Here’s a quick preview of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: When the regular season ended, Tennessee true freshman Tyler Bray was one of the SEC’s hottest quarterbacks. He threw 12 touchdown passes and only four interceptions during the Vols’ four-game winning streak and also piled up 1,234 passing yards in those four games. A bit of a gunslinger in the Brett Favre mold, Bray has a big arm and isn’t afraid to make the tough throws into tight windows. He’s also pretty crafty in the pocket. And even though he’s only a first-year player, he’s well ahead of his years when it comes to having a feel for where the pressure is coming from and where he needs to go with the football.

WHAT TO WATCH: Tennessee’s defense played better during the four-game winning streak and made several key plays in the finale to hold an explosive Kentucky offense to 14 points. But this will be the Vols’ stiffest test defensively since the South Carolina game on Oct. 30. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson is back with the team after missing all of the pre-Christmas practices for personal reasons. The Vols will need him at his best. Also, is this defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s last game with the Vols? He’s in play at Texas and could be headed to Austin as the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator after the game.

WHY WATCH: For a while, it looked like we wouldn’t get to see North Carolina and Tennessee play football after Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton pulled the plug on the series earlier this year. The Tar Heels and Vols were scheduled to play in both 2011 and 2012, but Hamilton felt like the schedule was too difficult this early in Derek Dooley’s tenure and paid the penalty to get out of the series. It wasn’t the best PR move for the Vols, and the perception nationally was that they were running from an ACC team. Here’s a chance to get some of their “cred” back and end the season on a five-game winning streak after starting out 2-6.

PREDICTION: Tennessee 27, North Carolina 21. It’s a good mix right now for Tennessee of seniors determined to go out the right way and freshmen eager to build some more momentum heading into the offseason. There have been times in the past when the Vols merely went through the motions at bowl games. Not this year. They’re genuinely excited to be here and will play that way in front of what will be a decidedly orange-coated crowd at sold-out LP Field.