Once the announcement of the bowl game was made, all eyes turned over to Kenan Stadium for word to trickle out about who will and won’t play in the game. Unlike last year, the Tar Heels don’t have a huge amount of players expected to go high in the NFL Draft. There is one name, though, that was expected to be a foregone conclusion of sitting out: Sam Howell.
The junior is already UNC’s most prolific quarterback ever, and with early mock drafts now having him go in the first round, it would be easy to see Sam take the same path as several Tar Heels last year and sit out the bowl game to avoid injury. He’s already had to deal with shoulder issues, and with his increased running this season, the wear and tear had to be higher than last season. Plus, no offense to the best social media bowl team out there, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl isn’t exactly the Orange Bowl.
Turns out, Sam Howell continues to defy expectations.
Bowl news: I'm told Sam Howell will play in North Carolina's @DukesMayoBowl game against South Carolina. pic.twitter.com/nvmNtd9Qbm— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) December 6, 2021
Inside Carolina ultimately confirmed the report with their own sources, and it means that Sam Howell’s North Carolina career will potentially end the same place it started: in Charlotte, against the Gamecocks.
The move makes sense for Howell, risk aside. Howell is not going to get the ability to play in the Senior Bowl as he’s only a junior, and even though he’s being projected in the first round, this draft class isn’t exactly being heralded as the best of all time. There’s a chance he could still be the fifth quarterback taken, if not more, and a slide out of the first round would cost him money both in the amount of his first contract and the length. Thus, any chance he gets to show out for scouts is one worth taking, especially when it’s against an SEC opponent and it’s the only game being played at that time.
You may have noticed the “potentially” as well. Until Howell actually declares, we do have to say “potentially,” but the fact his plan was to declare after this season was so open, Mack Brown has mentioned it several times. This choice to play isn’t necessarily a sign one way or the other, not until there’s an official announcement, the only thing that changes is that the Duke’s Mayo Bowl has a chance to be a lot more fun for Tar Heel fans.