North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky tries to get past Stanford safety Dallas Lloyd in the second quarter of the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec., 30, 2016 in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Mark Lambie)
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Defense leads McCaffrey-less No. 18 Stanford past North Carolina in Sun Bowl

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Who needs Christian McCaffrey? Or a starting quarterback for that matter? Playing without its regular backfield battery, No. 18 Stanford used a standout effort from running back Bryce Love and a relentless defense to hold off North Carolina 25-23 in an overcast Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Keller Chryst started the game at quarterback and, after a three-and-out and a UNC touchdown to open the game, put Stanford on the board with a 49-yard snatch-and-dash toss to Love. After a Tar Heels punt, Chryst maneuvered Stanford to within scoring territory before he was forced to leave the game after injuring his right knee on an 8-yard scramble. Conrad Ukropina put Stanford on top with a 44-yard field goal with 14:13 to play in the first half.

The Cardinal eventually pushed the lead to 16-7 thanks to a defense that stifled North Carolina’s offense. Playing in perhaps his final college game before a possible first-round selection in this spring’s NFL Draft, Stanford forced Mitch Trubisky into an interception inside his own territory and a fumble inside his own red zone. Nick Weiler, hero of the Florida State win, added to the misery when he missed a 51-yard field goal, leading to Ukropina’s third field goal of the game (with one miss mixed in) to push the Cardinal lead to nine.

North Carolina responded with its best offensive stretch of the day, moving a combined 123 yards over 17 plays to secure a 37-yard Weiler field goal and a 5-yard Jordon Brown rush, staking the Heels to a 17-16 lead with 2:09 to play in the third quarter. But Stanford got Trubisky one last time, taking as Dallas Lloyd claimed his second interception of the day and returned it untouched for a 19-yard pick-six at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter. Ryan Burns, playing for Chryst, saw his 2-point pass fall incomplete, forcing Stanford to live with a 22-17 lead. Burns managed the offense and produced just enough points for the win, completing 6-of-11 passes for 86 yards without a turnover. (Chryst left the game with 86 passing yards, 14 rushing yards and a touchdown.) Love rushed 22 times for a game-high 115 yards with a 49-yard touchdown reception.

The Heels moved 35 yards on a would-be go-ahead possession before punting, and Stanford put together a vintage Stanford (10-3) drive, consuming more than seven minutes to run 12 plays. But Stanford, un-Stanford-like fashion, could not push the ball across the goal line, settling for Ukropina’s fourth field goal of the day instead.

North Carolina (8-5) took the field at its own 25 with an eternity — 3:23, to be exact — and all three of its timeouts, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force a 25-25 tie, but could not gain a first down. Trubisky completed a pass to Ryan Switzer for no gain on first down, threw incomplete on second down and was sacked by Solomon Thomas on third down, forcing a punt with exactly two minutes remaining.

The Cardinal killed only ten seconds on three Love runs — with a third down one puzzlingly going out of bounds — but a 56-yard Jake Bailey punt pinned North Carolina at its own three with 1:34 and one timeout remaining. That inability to cross the line once, either to score the game-winning touchdown or a game-ending first down one drive later, proved costly. Given new life, Trubisky moved North Carolina 97 yards in one minute, as Trubisky scrambled to his right and found Bug Howard opened in the left side of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that traveled about 40 through the air.

Needing a 2-point conversion to extend the game, Trubisky again scrambled to his right but was swallowed by Thomas and a host of Cardinal defenders.

Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick and expired the final 25 seconds to hold on for the win. In what may be his final on-field audition for the NFL, Trubisky finished 23-of-39 passing for 280 yards with two touchdowns and three turnovers (one a pick-six).

With the win, the first of the post-Christian McCaffrey era on the Farm, Stanford secured its second consecutive 10-win season and top-20 season, its fifth such season in six tries under David Shaw and its sixth double-digit, top-20 season in the last seven years dating back to the Jim Harbaugh era.

Stanford down a QB but leading North Carolina in Sun Bowl

PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Ryan Burns #17 of the Stanford Cardinal looks to pass the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes at Stanford Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Without Christian McCaffrey and starting quarterback Keller Chryst going down to injury, No. 18 Stanford still holds a 13-7 lead over North Carolina halfway through the Sun Bowl.

North Carolina opened the scoring by moving 71 yards in 10 plays on its first possession, capped by a 19-yard strike from Mitch Trubisky to Ryan Switzer. After a three-and-out to open the game, Stanford answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of its own, the final 49 yards coming on a pass from Chryst to McCaffrey-less starting running back Bryce Love.

The Cardinal forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and moved deep into North Carolina territory when Chryst was forced to leave the game after injuring his knee on an 8-yard scramble. Ryan Burns entered the game and led the Cardinal to a 44-yard Conrad Ukropina field goal, handing Stanford its first lead at the 14:13 mark of the second quarter.

North Carolina moved into Stanford territory on its next touch, but Dallas Lloyd stepped in front of a Trubisky passed and raced it 45 yards to the UNC 20-yard line. Ukropina, however, missed his 36-yard field goal three plays later.

Stanford’s defense continued its vice-grip hold on the UNC offense, though, forcing a four-and-out and a Trubisky fumble at his own 18. Ukropina converted this miscue into points, knocking in a 32-yard field goal with 32 seconds left before the break.

Burns hit 3-of-7 passes for 35 yards, while Chryst will finish with a line of 3-of-6 passing for 68 yards and a touchdown plus 14 rushing yards on two carries. Love has rushed 10 times for 37 yards with a 49-yard touchdown reception.

Trubisky started hot but finished 11-of-17 for 83 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble while rushing five times for 20 yards. T.J. Logan has also carried five times for 20 yards, but the Heels trail the rushing battle, 46-43.

North Carolina will receive to open the second half.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  The Miami Hurricanes kick off to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

Duke withstands early North Carolina charge to keep things even at halftime

EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 17:  David  Cutcliffe head coach of the Duke Blue Devils  questions a call during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats on September 17, 2016 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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The college basketball season starts on Friday but before hearts and minds across the state turn to the hard court, Duke and North Carolina renewed their Tobacco Road rivalry on the gridiron Thursday night.

There were times early on where it looked like the Tar Heels were going to jump out to a big lead, but the Blue Devils responded with several impressive drives in the second quarter to knot things up at halftime 21-all.

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones was effective on short and intermediate throws to rack up 146 yards through the air while adding another 25 yards rushing. He spread the ball around quite a bit, hitting seven different receivers over the first two quarters and leading three scoring drives over 65 yards.

His counterpart Mitch Trubisky looked like the signal-caller many believe can be an NFL first-rounder, throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the half. While he wasn’t normally a rushing threat on designed keepers (three carries, seven yards) as much as previous games, a lot of that had to do with feeding tailback Elijah Hood (6.2 yards a carry) against a defense that is much better than the stats would indicate.

It should make for a fun second half from Durham, as Duke is trying to keep their slim hopes at making a bowl game alive on Senior Day from Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC is in the thick of the ACC Coastal race and will need to capture a win if they want to remain neck-and-neck with Virginia Tech atop the standings with just a few games left on the schedule.

No. 21 UNC scores 21 unanswered points to pull away from Georgia Tech for big ACC Coastal win

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Elijah Hood #34 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the game at Kenan Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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No. 21 North Carolina (7-2, 5-1 ACC) started on the right foot and found a way to close things out in the second half against Georgia Tech (5-4, 2-4 ACC). Elijah Hood scored three touchdowns and rushed for 168 yards for the Tar Heels in  48-20 victory to keep UNC in strong contention for the ACC Coastal Division coming down the final stretch.

After Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker kicked a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut UNC’s lead to seven, the Tar Heels scored 21 unanswered points, including one short touchdown run by Hood (who had two in the first half). T.J. Logan added a 20-yard touchdown scamper and Mitch Trubisky took off running 18 yards for a score inside the red zone in the fourth quarter. Trubisky also passed for 329 yards and a score. UNC’s offense piled up 636 yards of offense against Georgia Tech, who also managed to pick up 518 yards of offense against the Tar Heels.

Dedrick Mills led Georgia Tech with 132 rushing yards. Quarterback Justin Thomas passed for 184 yards with a touchdown and rushed for 82 yards. Both teams converted eight third downs on 14 (Georgia Tech) and 13 (UNC) opportunities. Georgia Tech, however, was the only team to turn the football over (twice), which led to 14 UNC points in the second half.

For now, UNC leads the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-1 ACC record. They entered the day tied with Virginia Tech, but the Hokies own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the defending division champions. One Virginia Tech loss would give UNC the inside track once again. With Pitt losing at Miami, the division is a two-team race the next few weeks between UNC and Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech is still within reach of a postseason bowl game, but must pick up one win in the final three weeks, with road trips to Virginia Tech (next Saturday) and Georgia in the regular season finale and a home game with Virginia in between.