Coming into the game, Tennessee held a 20-10-1 record in prior matchups with the last contest having taken place in 1961. Tennessee and UNC were actually scheduled to play one another in 2011 and 2012; however, the series was canceled by Tennessee. The two programs had never before played each other in a bowl game.
The Tar Heels came into the 2010 season ranked No. 18 in the country in the pre-season AP poll. However, the season would be marked by numerous injuries and suspensions and UNC entered the game with a 7-5 record. North Carolina was making its third straight bowl appearance. Veteran quarterback T.J. Yates was one of the most improved players in the country during the 2010 regular season and was at the heart of the team’s success. He was No. 2 in the ACC in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing average per game. The Tar Heels were making their first appearance in the Music City Bowl.
Tennessee started the season at 2-6 and looked like it would not be appearing in a bowl game. However, the team rebounded nicely and won its last 4 straight to come into the game at 6-6. The Vols had one of the youngest teams in the country with 21 first-year players on the two-deep chart. Nonetheless, freshman quarterback Tyler Bray had thrown 12 TD passes in his last four starts to get the Vols bowl eligible. This was the first time that Tennessee played in the Music City Bowl.
The 2010 Franklin American MortgageMusic City Bowl ended in unusual fashion. Trailing Tennessee 20-17 with only 31 seconds left, no time-outs and the ball on their own twenty yard line, the Tar Heels were able to move all the way to the Tennessee 25 yard line with 16 seconds remaining. North Carolina's Shaun Draughn ran the ball for a seven-yard gain but did not get out of bounds to stop the clock. Chaos ensued as North Carolina tried to rush in the field-goal unit to tie the game. North Carolina had seventeen players on the field as quarterback T.J. Yates tried to stop the clock by spiking the ball at 0:01. Penalty flags flew as the clock on the scoreboard ran out. Volunteers players and coaches streamed onto the field in celebration while UNC coaches and players were in disbelief. The head referee announced to the crowd over the loudspeaker, "The game is over," and the head coaches for both schools shook hands at mid-field. The replay official then called for a review since there had been one second left on the clock when the ball was spiked. The officials reversed the decision on the field, ruling that the ball had in fact been snapped and spiked with one second remaining on the clock. The Tar Heels were assessed the five-yard penalty for too many men on the field and the clock was reset to 0:01. (If the 2011 rules were in effect for this game, then at this point North Carolina would be penalized 10 seconds in addition to five yards, and thus the game would have ended as a Tennessee victory. If the 2013 rules regarding spiking the ball were in effect for this game, the game would have been over regardless of any penalties because three seconds is the minimum time allowed to spike the ball and get another play and, again, Tennessee would have won the game.) UNC kicker Casey Barth then kicked a 39-yard field goal to tie the score at 20-20 and send the game into overtime. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime period to tie the score at 27-27. In the second overtime period, North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant intercepted a pass from Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray on the Volunteers' possession and North Carolina kicker Barth kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game for North Carolina 30-27.
Because of the 4th quarter situation in which North Carolina's penalty stopped the clock, a rule change was made effective beginning with the 2011 season. If a team commits a penalty that directly causes a clock stoppage in the final minute of a half, the opposing team is allowed to have 10 seconds run off the clock in addition to the yardage penalty.