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December 25, 2009

Meineke Car Care Bowl: UNC vs. Pitt

MORE: Fox: Big names find themselves in little bowl games | Bowl schedule/results

The Meineke Car Care Bowl should be a hit in Pittsburgh and Chapel Hill, N.C., but the game should also draw some interest in Miami, Dallas and at Jimmy Johnson's house.

Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt and North Carolina's Butch Davis both left NFL head-coaching jobs to resuscitate college programs in recent years. When the Panthers and Tar Heels meet in Charlotte on Saturday, it will be one of the few times Wannstedt and Davis have met on opposing sidelines.

Wannstedt and Davis coached under Johnson at Oklahoma State from 1979-82, when Wannstedt was a defensive assistant and Davis was an offensive assistant. They regrouped at the University of Miami from 1986-88, when Wannstedt was defensive coordinator and Davis was defensive line coach.

The assistants carried those same titles for the next four seasons, until 1992, under Johnson with the Dallas Cowboys. That season was the last time the coaches would share the same sideline, though they shared the same city for a year when Wannstedt's tenure with the Miami Dolphins and Davis' stint as UM's coach overlapped.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?

North Carolina rush offense vs. Pittsburgh rush defense: North Carolina once again had trouble finding consistency in the run game. The options aren't getting better with Shaun Draughn likely to miss the game with the same shoulder injury that cost him the final three games of the regular season. The Tar Heels ranked 73rd in the nation in rush offense and will face a physical Pittsburgh defense. A good running team can cause problems for Pitt - but UNC is not that team.
Edge: Pittsburgh

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL

North Carolina (8-4)
vs. Pittsburgh (9-3)

WHEN: 4:30 p.m., Saturday.
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen will do the play-by-play, with Chris Spielman and Bob Griese as the analysts).
THE LINE: Pittsburgh by 2.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: North Carolina 5-2, Pittsburgh 4-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: North Carolina 10th, Pittsburgh 32nd.
BCS RANKING: North Carolina is unranked, Pitt is 17th.
COACHES: North Carolina - Butch Davis (4-1 in bowls); Pittsburgh - Dave Wannstedt (0-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It's a matchup of pro-style offenses. That makes sense since the coaches came from the NFL. Davis and Wannstedt returned to the college ranks from the NFL to rebuild their programs. The next milestone for each program is to win a bowl game. The Tar Heels haven't won in the postseason since 2001; the Panthers haven't won a bowl since 2002.
KEY STATS: Pitt is 29th in the nation in rush offense behind true freshman TB Dion Lewis, who has run for 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns. Lewis averages 136.7 yards per game, which is third nationally. UNC has the No. 9 rush defense in the nation, allowing just 92.8 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Lewis wasn't a big recruit - literally (5 feet 8) or figuratively (a three-star prospect) - but has produced huge numbers in his first season on campus. He has had nine 100-yard games, including three outings of at least 180 yards. He also had six games with at least two rushing touchdowns. Keeping him under control is the top priority for UNC.
North Carolina pass offense vs. Pittsburgh pass defense: A struggling running game is bad news for QB T.J. Yates. Making matters worse is Pitt's pass rush; the Panthers led the nation with 44 sacks. Most impressive is that Pitt is putting up these numbers without resorting to many blitzes.
Edge: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh rush offense vs. North Carolina rush defense: This matchup likely determines the outcome of the game. In fact, it should be one of the best unit matchups in the bowl season. Lewis is third in the nation in rushing, while the Tar Heels' defense is ninth nationally against the run. UNC's overall numbers are good, but the Tar Heels aren't impenetrable - Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer, Virginia's Mikell Simpson and Boston College's Montel Harris topped 100 yards against this defense. Meanwhile, Lewis has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven consecutive games. He should be recovered from his 47-carry performance against Cincinnati.
Edge: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh pass offense vs. North Carolina pass defense: Stopping Lewis is tough enough, but if Lewis grinds down the Tar Heels' defense, watch out for WR Jonathan Baldwin. As defenses creep up on Lewis, Baldwin can bust a big pass off play-action - he has four catches of longer than 50 yards this season, three for touchdowns. TE Dorin Dickerson started the season well, but he vanished over the final weeks of the season, including no catches against Cincinnati. North Carolina has a ball-hawking defense that recorded 11 interceptions in its last three ACC wins of the season.
Edge: Pittsburgh

North Carolina special teams vs. Pittsburgh special teams: Neither team has a game-breaking returner, though Pitt's Cameron Saddler was second in the Big East in kickoff returns and UNC's Da'Norris Searcy was second in the ACC in punt returns. Tar Heels K Casey Barth made 16 consecutive field goals before missing his final attempt against N.C. State.
Edge: North Carolina

North Carolina coaching staff vs. Pittsburgh coaching staff: It's tough to ignore Pitt's flop against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl last season. The Panthers lost 3-0 even though the Beavers were playing without Jacquizz Rodgers. Davis won all four of his bowls with Miami before losing by one last season to West Virginia in this bowl in his first postseason appearance with UNC. Both teams have veteran coaching staffs with college and pro experience, so it should be an interesting chess match, especially given the familiarity between Wannstedt and Davis.
Edge: North Carolina

X-factor: Watch North Carolina's defense. The Tar Heels forced 28 turnovers and needed their defense to put points on the board this season. A fourth-quarter safety was the winning margin in a 12-10 victory over Connecticut. The defense also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a seven-point win over Miami, and two defensive touchdowns helped North Carolina beat Boston College comfortably despite Yates' struggles. Despite the 28 forced turnovers, UNC's turnover margin was just plus-3.

North Carolina will win if: The Tar Heels need to get to Pitt QB Bill Stull. In Pittsburgh's three loses, Stull struggled. He was just 12-for-23 against N.C. State and threw two interceptions against West Virginia and Cincinnati. Lewis can take Pitt only so far.

Pittsburgh will win if: The Panthers need to put the game on Yates' shoulders. In the four games the Tar Heels failed to rush for 100 yards as a team, Yates threw nine interceptions and two touchdown passes. North Carolina went 2-2 in those games, largely because Yates was bailed out by his defense.

EXPERT PICKS
Olin Buchanan: Pitt 24, North Carolina 21
Tom Dienhart: Pitt 26, North Carolina 17
David Fox: North Carolina 17, Pitt 10
Mike Huguenin: Pitt 21, North Carolina 17
Steve Megargee: North Carolina 24, Pitt 23



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