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DETROIT (AP) — With the NFL's Lions taking over Detroit's bowl game, the city was able to upgrade its conference matchup, going from a top Mid-American Conference team and an at-large berth to a Big Ten vs. ACC pairing.
Newcomer Rutgers is representing the Big Ten in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl on Friday against one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's anchor schools, North Carolina.
It's a series that spans three centuries: The schools met for the first time in 1894, several years before the Tar Heels had an official football program. The Scarlet Knights won that first game 5-0. They played again in 1919, then took an 87-year hiatus before facing off four times in the last nine regular seasons. This is their first matchup in a bowl.
The Tar Heels have won the last three to even the series 3-3.
Rutgers must try to find a way to stop North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who threw for 2,870 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, while running for 737 yards and 12 more scores.
"He's a unique player to defend, because he has the entire skill set of a tailback, but he can also do a fine job throwing the ball," said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. "He is definitely the focal point of that offense, so stopping him is how you stop them."
For the Scarlet Knights, Gary Nova is more of a traditional drop-back passer, throwing for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"We have to get pressure on him," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "If we give that young man time, he will pick us apart. He's very accurate."
Ford Field has hosted a post-Christmas bowl for most of its 14-year existence, but the Motor City Bowl (later the Little Caesar's Bowl) was run by an outside group that merely rented the stadium for the game. Starting this year, the Lions are just the second NFL team to run a bowl game, joining the Houston Texans (Texas Bowl).
"This is an exciting new challenge for the Lions," said Tom Lewand, president of both the NFL franchise and the new bowl. "We're very excited to put on a first-class bowl for both of these schools and for the city of Detroit."
Some things to know about Friday's Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field.
MIXED FEELINGS: Nova needs 310 yards to pass Mike Teel as the Scarlet Knights' career leader. Teel is the team's wide receivers coach, and Nova joked that he's not sure how Teel feels about it.
"He's been a huge positive for me during my career, because he's experienced all the same things that I do, so he's always someone I can talk to and even vent at," Nova said. "But I don't think he wants me to take his record away."
BOWLING WITH THE PROS: Williams and North Carolina safety Tim Scott got to spend part of their first day in Detroit with an NFL player, although they weren't exactly awe-struck. The pair had dinner and went bowling with Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron, who played with Williams, Scott and the Tar Heels through last season.
The Lions play the Packers for the NFC North title Sunday.
"Football is a job for him now, but I think he wouldn't mind sneaking out there and scoring a few more touchdowns for us," Williams said.
TEMPO MATTERS: One of the keys to Friday's game will be North Carolina's ability to keep its offense moving at its favored up-tempo pace. The Tar Heels like to snap the ball every 15-20 seconds.
HISTORY AT FORD FIELD: The Tar Heels have played only three games in the state of Michigan — two in East Lansing and one in Ann Arbor — and the last was in 1966. The school has fond memories of Ford Field, though: That's where the basketball team beat Michigan State for the 2009 national championship.
BETTER LUCK THIS TIME: The Scarlet Knights, in contrast, visited the state Nov. 22, when they were blown out 45-3 by Michigan State. They did beat Michigan in their first Big Ten season, but that was at home.
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