CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina didn't lose a game for three months, rolled to lopsided wins against instate opponents and won a division title before falling short in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Yet the No. 10 Tar Heels are still driven by the possibility to add another milestone to a historically successful season, even as they juggle some coaching duties on their high-scoring offense.
The Tar Heels face No. 18 Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 with a chance to set a program single-season record with 12 victories, not to mention secure the program's first top-10 finish nationally in nearly two decades. To do that, they'll have to win without assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell, who was recently named head coach at North Texas after directing one of the nation's top attacks.
They opened bowl practices Saturday.
"It's been smooth for us," right guard Landon Turner said Tuesday at the team's bowl news conference. "It's definitely noticed with Coach Littrell being gone. We all love Coach Littrell and I'm more than ecstatic for him and his new head coaching job. . But at the same time, we haven't noticed too much of a drop-off just because of the relationships of the coaches and what we want to do as an offense is pretty clear."
The Tar Heels ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense (40.9 points) and averaged 486.9 yards per game. Head coach Larry Fedora wasn't ready to commit exactly who would be in charge of play-calling duties with Littrell gone, noting only that graduate assistant Andrew Mitchell would take over Littrell's position duties at tight end for the bowl.
Fedora built his coaching reputation during stints as an offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma State before earning his first college head-coaching job at Southern Mississippi.
"We're game-planning the same way we always have an offensive staff," Fedora said. "Right now I haven't really finally decided how it's going to go down in the game. I think that I'll probably be more involved than I have been, but that doesn't mean I'll be making all the calls. I've got guys on our staff that can handle it without a problem."
The possibilities include quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf, as well as receivers coach Gunter Brewer and offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic — with the last two sharing the title of co-offensive coordinator. Brewer and Kapilovic have been with Fedora throughout his four-year stint in Chapel Hill.
The only offensive assistant Fedora seemed willing to rule out was running backs coach Larry Porter because he also handles special teams. Fedora said he doesn't have a timetable for when he'll hire Littrell's permanent replacement.
The Tar Heels (11-2) are coming off a 45-37 loss to No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game, denying them the program's first ACC title since 1980. But the Tar Heels are only the fourth team in the program's long history to reach 11 wins, the second team to go 7-0 at home and the first to put together an 8-0 record in ACC regular-season play.
All season, Fedora opened meetings by telling his team "Coastal champs, state champs" to emphasize their goals. The goal now is to cap a memorable season with that record 12th win.
"We've been aware," quarterback Marquise Williams said. "Coach Fedora mentions it every day, probably every second."
This article was written by Aaron Beard from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.