ATLANTA -- After opening the season with three consecutive losses, North Carolina's first-year coach John Bunting wasn't thinking about bowl bids, just wondering if the Tar Heels would ever win a game.
North Carolina wound up battering Florida State 41-9 in its next game and went on to win five in a row and seven of its last nine games to finish 7-5, 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The late-season surge earned the Tar Heels a bid to the Peach Bowl in the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve against Auburn (7-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference).
"It was a very, very interesting season to say the least," Bunting said Thursday during a Peach Bowl luncheon, also attended by Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.
"It was a bit of a roller coaster. At one point, when we were 0-3, a lot of people thought we'd never win a game," Bunting said. "Then we won five straight and they had us going to the Orange Bowl (No. 3 Colorado is playing No. 4 Oregon).
"We're somewhere in between," he said of his team that overcame the difficulty of losing those first three games to No. 7 Maryland, No. 10 Texas and No. 11 Oklahoma.
What bowl did he think his team was going to at that point?
"Toilet," he said with a smile. "Maybe we'll have a little bowl game at the end of our year on our practice field. That's about it.
"Bowls were not in my thoughts. I was just trying to make our football team better, and I think playing that type of schedule helped us in the long run," he said.
Auburn took the opposite route, winning six of its first seven, including beating then No. 1 Florida 23-20, to take control of the SEC West.
The Tigers, however, went on to lose three of their last four, including to Alabama and eventual SEC champion Louisiana State in the last two games of the regular season.
"We were in the driver's seat after the Florida game," said Tuberville.
"I think the expectations were a little bit higher than what we could handle. The age group we had (predominantly freshmen and sophomores), I think they read too many newspapers and got to feeling much more of ourselves than we should have," he said.
"I don't think we were as hungry the second half of the season. We didn't improve like we did in the first two months," Tuberville said.
"To not be able to finish it off and not get back to Atlanta (SEC title game) for a second year in a row was disappointing," he said.
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