Orange Bowl matchup set: It’s Texas A&M vs. North Carolina

David Furones, South Florida Sun Sentinel

What was expected to be the Orange Bowl matchup for more than a week became official on Sunday afternoon.

Texas A&M, No. 5 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, and No. 13 North Carolina are coming to South Florida to play in the 8 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium.

As one of the New Year’s Six bowl games outside of the College Football Playoff this season, the pairing was decided once it was determined No. 1 Alabama would face No. 4 Notre Dame in one CFP semifinal, the Rose Bowl (to be played in Dallas this year due to COVID-19), and No. 2 Clemson would get No. 3 Ohio State in the other, the Sugar Bowl.

Texas A&M (8-1, 8-1 SEC) has remained in that No. 5 spot, just outside the four-team playoff, for the past month of CFP rankings. The Aggies’ one loss came against Alabama, 52-24, on Oct. 3. They ran the table the rest of the way, including a 41-38 win over No. 7 Florida the following week, on Oct. 10.

UNC (8-3, 7-3 ACC) got its bid as the top ACC team outside of those that made the CFP, Clemson and Notre Dame. The Tar Heels thrashed the Miami Hurricanes, 62-26, in the regular-season finale on Dec. 12 to earn the inside track over UM for the bid.

A&M last played in the Orange Bowl in 1944, but coach Jimbo Fisher is no stranger to the game or South Florida. As the former Florida State coach, he would face Miami at Hard Rock Stadium every other year. He also led the Seminoles to two Orange Bowl victories, in 2012 and 2016.

UNC coach Mack Brown was just at Hard Rock Stadium for his team’s big victory over the Hurricanes. The Tar Heels have never played in the Orange Bowl.

Texas A&M and UNC have never faced each other.

Hard Rock Stadium is also the site of this season’s national championship game, played on Jan. 11 after the two semifinals are held on Jan. 1.

This story will be updated.