The NCAA postseason kicked off on Dec. 19, and will see 33 games played in a three-week span. Seniors will get their last hurrahs, and teams will attempt to end their seasons on the winning side in the hopes of improving their recruiting efforts that follow. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Meineke Car Care Bowl, Dec. 26th, 4:30 PM, Charlotte, NC
No. 17 Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. University of North Carolina (8-4)
The Panthers had BCS hopes heading into their showdown with Big East leader Cincinnati, as a win would have given them the tie-breaker, and an Orange Bowl Berth. Unfortunately, the Panthers lost their second-straight Big East game after starting 5-0 in conference, and fell to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The success of Pittsburgh hinges directly on its rushing game. True Freshman Dion Rogers kept defenses looking silly all season, en route to 1640 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 136.67 yards per game is third in the nation in rushing.
Senior QB Bill Stull turned his season around after a tumultuous junior campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Behind an offensive line boasting three seniors, Stull threw for 2470 yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Sophomore WR Jonathon Baldwin was the primary benefactor of Stull’s improved play, with 54 catches for 1080 yards (20.0 yards per catch average), and eight touchdowns.
These three are the biggest factors in Pittsburgh being 16th in scoring in the NCAA FBS (33.17 points per game). The Panthers aren’t all offense, however. Their defense knows how to get to a QB, as evident by their 3.75 sack per game average (first in FBS). Junior DL Greg Romeus lead the team with eight sacks, and also contributed 40 tackles (10.5 for loss). Pitt's pressure is why it is giving up just 20 points a game, and that, along with the team's solid offense, will spell victory.
The Tar Heels had high hopes entering 2009, and started off resembling a team with a BCS mission, going 3-0 for the first time since 1997. Losses in three of their next four, including three conference games, destroyed those hopes, but winning four of their next five brought the Heels' record to a bowl qualifying 8-4.
UNC requires the effectiveness of its defense, as its offense is in the bottom half of all major categories, including a dismal 107th in total offense (311.42 yards a game).
On the other hand, UNC is sixth in total defense, giving up only 267.25 yards a game. Leading the effort is Sophomore DL Robert Quinn with 49 tackles (19 for losses), 11 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Also, junior DB Kendric Burney is a complete package, with 48 tackles (4.5 for loss), one sack, and five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.
Considering the offense only manages 24.3 points per game (81st in NCAA FBS), the defense’s ability to hold opponents to 16.92 points (13th in NCAA FBS), is a big reason why UNC sits here today. It is also the best shot North Carolina has at winning this game.
Pittsburgh is 10-15 in bowl games, currently sitting on a three game losing streak. This is its second-straight year in a bowl. Pitt is 0-1 in Meineke Car Care Bowl appearances.
North Carolina is 12-14 in its bowl games, and is also on a losing streak, having lost its last two appearances. It is also 0-2 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (losses in 2004 and 2008). North Carolina currently holds the series advantage, 4-2, with the last matchup being a Tar Heel victory in 2000.
The key matchup in this game is the Pittsburgh offense, led by Lewis, versus the North Carolina defense. However, Pittsburgh’s defense can, and most likely will, reign havoc on the North Carolina offense and Junior QB T.J. Yates (1953 yards, 12 TDs, 14 interceptions). The pressure led by Romeus will no doubt force Yates into rushed throws and potential turnovers. This will give Pittsburgh great field position for Lewis to run rough shed.
Pittsburgh has weapons on both sides of the ball, and provided they snap out of their funk from the last two games, it will win handily, 45-14.