Dating back to it’s inaugural edition in 2002, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl/Belk Bowl/various other sponsors and names has always had an middle-tier ACC team as one of the participants. Seeing as that North Carolina Tar Heels football has often been a middle-tier ACC team, and are from the state that the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is held in, it’s not entirely shocking that they’ve ended up there many times over the years.
When UNC take the field against West Virginia in a couple days, it will mark the sixth ever time that the Heels have played in the bowl game held in Charlotte. That’ll be two more than another team for whom it makes sense to have appeared in the game a bunch — NC State. This also won’t even be the first time Carolina has played West Virginia in the game, as they also met in the 2008 edition. This will be the Mountaineers’ third time in the game, too.
As for how they’ve done in the game...well things haven’t gone great over the years. In their five previous appearances in the Duke’s Mayo/Etc Bowl, UNC has gone just 1-4. The lone win came in the 2013 edition when they blew out Cincinnati in the then Belk Bowl. As it happens, that was also a year where they rallied back from a 1-5 record to get to 6-6. Considering that they also missed a bowl the previous season despite an 8-4 record thanks to the NCAA mess, it makes sense that they went into that game with some motivation. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always existed for them going into this game.
A prime example of that is two years ago, because, yes, it hasn’t been that long since Carolina last appeared in this bowl. UNC started the 2021 season ranked in the top ten, but struggled to a 6-6 season, dooming them to a trip to Charlotte. There, they promptly looked pretty meh in a 38-21 loss to South Carolina, in a game that few on the team were probably over the moon to play in.
You probably can’t put quite everything on UNC’s struggles in this bowl down to motivation. The 2004 trip to the then Continential Tire Bowl was their first bowl game since 2001 and just the second in total since 1998. Yet they were pretty easily handled by an — admittedly top ranked and pretty good — Boston College team.
The other two appearances in game game came in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009. As mentioned, the 2008 game came against the same WVU team they’ll face off against this year. Against a Pat White-led Mountaineers’ squad, UNC lost by one in a back-and-forth battle.
The 2009 bowl was against WVU’s Backyard Brawl rival Pitt and again saw UNC lose a close game. That year, the Panthers hit a late field goal to beat Carolina by two and get to 10 wins on the year.
Beyond just the bowl games hosted there, the Tar Heels have also had some issues in Bank of America Stadium in general. To be fair, they did beat South Carolina there to open this past season and did so as well in 2019, but prior to that, they had lost previous games to the Gamecocks there, plus two ACC Championship Game losses in recent memory. The stadium has been a bit of a house of horrors for Carolina.
Just to be honest, I don’t have a particularly great feeling that this year’s game will be any better for UNC. Several players won’t be playing in the game, including quarterback Drake Maye. That plus the way the season ended in general doesn’t have me thinking that the vibes will be changing around UNC’s history in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl this year.