2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl - Pitt vs. UNC
UNC LB Quan Sturdivant & Pitt DT Mick Williams
UNC LB Quan Sturdivant & Pitt DT Mick Williams
Posted Dec 20, 2009

The CFN 2009 Meineke Care Care Bowl Preview - Pitt vs. North Carolina

2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl

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

Charlotte, NC, Dec. 26, 4:30, ESPN

Scroll Down For Bowl Histories & Best Moments

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Team Pages and 2009 Season
Pitt | North Carolina

- 2008 CFN Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview
- 2006 CFN Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview
National Rankings
Pitt   NC
45th Total Offense 107th
26th Total Defense 6th
16th Scoring Offense 81st
21st Scoring Defense 13th
29th Rushing Offense 75th
17th Run Defense 9th
62nd Passing Offense 102nd
56th Passing Defense 15th
12th Turnover Margin 46th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
P 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 2
5 RBs 3
4 Receivers 2.5
5 O Line 2.5
5 D Line 4.5
3.5 Linebackers 5
3 Secondary 5
3 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 4.5
Meineke Car Care Bowl History
2008 West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30
2007 Wake Forest 24, Connecticut 10
2006 Boston Coll 25, Navy 24
2005 NC St 14, South Florida 0
2004 Boston Col 37, North Carolina 24
2003 Virginia 23, Pitt 16
2002 Virginia 48, West Virginia 22
A couple of upwardly-mobile programs, which once had dreams of a BCS bowl game, will settle on a mid-level meeting in Charlotte. Although the venue might not match their expectations for 2009, it'll surely impact how they begin 2010 in the eyes of the nation.

The sting from the 45-44 loss earlier in the month to unbeaten Cincinnati is still being felt in Pittsburgh. The Panthers were painfully close to winning the Big East title and playing in either the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl. Instead, they inexplicably blew a three-touchdown lead at home and were on the losing end of one of the more thrilling games of 2009. Short memories and a keen focus will be two keys leading up this game.

Despite just missing out on a much bigger prize and losing consecutive games, Pitt can still look back on the regular season as another building block for the future. In fact, under Dave Wannstedt, the Panthers have now won at least nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Dan Marino was roaming the campus in the early 1980s. The talent has steadily improved, especially in the trenches, and confidence is no longer a factor. Clearly headed in the right direction and so close to getting over the hump, the program's three losses this year came by just a total of 11 points. With a break or two, Pitt could have easily been one of the three undefeated schools griping about not playing in Pasadena.

The best news of all in Western Pennsylvania is that the Panthers' undisputed star is only a true freshman. Lightly-recruited coming out of high last year, RB Dion Lewis evolved into an unlikely successor to LeSean McCoy, winning the job in August and going on to rush for 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns. After watching him weave in and out of defenses with impeccable instincts and vision, there isn't a school in America that wouldn't want No. 28 in its backfield now. A 5-8, 195-pound cornerstone, he's looking to bring the program its first bowl win since 2002.

North Carolina began the year with lofty expectations, but inconsistency prevented the school from reaching most of them. Not unlike their opponent, the Tar Heels are on the right trajectory, amassing quality players behind Butch Davis and earning consecutive bowl games for the first time in a decade. However, there was still an empty feeling in Chapel Hill, largely related to a feeble offense that became a drag on one of the nation's toughest defenses. And because of that 107th-ranked offense, you rarely knew what you'd get out of Carolina during the regular season.

After starting fast with three straight wins, the Heels slipped completely out of the ACC Coastal race by dropping the next three conference games. They barely showed up in losses to Virginia and Georgia Tech, and let an 18-point lead over Florida State evaporate in front of a national TV audience. To its credit, Carolina did rebound with four wins in-a-row, including upsets of Virginia Tech and Miami, but the switch was off again in a loss to 4-7 NC State at the end of the regular season. Which team shows up in Charlotte? You'll have to tune in to find out.

Carolina and Pitt have designs on closing the deal in 2010 and winning a conference championship. For both, that journey begins about eight months before opening day at Bank of America Stadium.

Players to Watch: Lewis ranks third in the country in rushing and has gone over 100 yards in seven straight games. Making it to No. 8, however, is going to require some heavy lifting. Bolstered by the best front seven in the ACC, Carolina is littered with all-stars and is No. 9 nationally against the run, yielding just 92 yards a game. The Heels are flush with next-level types, like DT Marvin Austin, DE Robert Quinn, and linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter, who can get a hand on Lewis before he has a chance to squirt through a hole.

If the Pitt running game shows any signs of stalling, the onus will fall on QB Bill Stull to pick up the slack. Now, he has had a tremendous senior year, but was rarely been asked to be the focal point of the offense. And the Tar Heels are equally strong against the pass, ranking 15th in the country, with the help of pick-pocket CB Kendric Burney and FS Deunta Williams. The pair was responsible for 11 of Carolina's 19 interceptions, a big concern for Stull. Fortunately, he won't go into this fight empty-handed, having access to athletic TE Dorin Dickerson and enormous WR Jonathan Baldwin, who have combined for 18 touchdown receptions.

While Carolina harbors one of the best front sevens in the country, Pittsburgh is not far behind. With Greg Romeus on the outside, Mick Williams on the inside, and LB Adam Gunn coming on the blitz, the Panthers lead the nation with 45 sacks. Considering their problems in the red zone and pedestrian offensive line, how are the Tar Heels going to keep PK Casey Barth from being the offensive MVP? QB T.J. Yates has been the poster child for the program's problems on offense, and the running game hasn't been able to bail him out. If there's a hole in the Panther D, it's in the secondary, which gives up big plays from time to time. The Heels are hoping rookie receivers Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith have turned the corner and can capitalize on a few post patterns.

Pittsburgh will win if ... : Lewis gets some running room. With even a hint of daylight, Lewis has the ability to control the tempo of a game and bring a defense to its knees. Despite all of the yards and accolades, however, it won't be a sure-thing against this rugged and fast Carolina defense. It'll be up to the Panther offensive line, namely T Jason Pinkston and G John Malecki, to allow Lewis to get past the first line of defense and make things happen in space. If successful, it unlocks the passing attack and affords Pitt the balance that it craves on offense. If the Tar Heels, on the other hand, win the battle up front and contain Lewis, Stull won't have much success against a back seven that can cover more ground than any unit in the ACC. As has been the case throughout the year, as Lewis goes, so goes Pittsburgh.

North Carolina will win if ... : it can continue playing offense on defense. Face it. The Tar Heels are not going to generate much firepower the conventional way. Yates, RB Shaun Draughn, and those inexperienced receivers are a poor match up for the Pittsburgh defense. The Carolina D, though, is capable of making things happen on its own. The unit has scored a half-dozen touchdowns this season and is second in the ACC with 28 takeaways. For the Heels to win a close game, they must continue to be opportunistic, stripping the ball and breaking into Stull's passing lanes. If Yates & Co. are forced to constantly navigate 75 and 80-yard drives, P Grant Shallock is going to be the busiest Heel in the stadium. If the defense, instead, can give the offense a handful of short-field chances, bruising RB Ryan Houston is capable of capping those drives by plunging over the goal line. Heck, if Burney or Sturdivant can pad his offensive numbers with another touchdown, even better.

What will happen: In a game between two evenly-matched, conservative programs, this year's Meineke Car Care Bowl figures to be nip-and-tuck until the final gun. Pittsburgh and North Carolina are built around their respective defenses, so the little things, such as special teams, turnovers, and field position are going to be especially critical. The difference on Saturday will come from the Panther offense. Pitt has Lewis. Carolina has an awful running game. Pitt has steady Stull behind center. Carolina has the erratic Yates. Pitt has the explosive Dickerson and Baldwin running routes. Carolina is still hoping to take the training wheels off its young set of receivers. When the Panthers need to extend a drive in the second half and protect a small lead, it'll deliver, always keeping the Tar Heels at arm's length. Lewis will once again get his 100 yards, but it'll take a few more carries than usual against the most talented defense he's faced all year.

CFN Prediction: Pittsburgh 24 … North Carolina 19 ... Line: Pittsburgh -3

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Best Panther Bowl Moment: Ranked No. 9 before the 1976 season began, Pittsburgh wrapped up the national championship with a dominant 27-3 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman winner Tony Dorsett rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 202 yards, and the Panther defense one-upped the vaunted Junkyard Dawgs, keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone for the first time all season.

Best Tar Heel Bowl Moment: The Gator Bowl has been the scene of some of North Carolina's biggest postseason triumphs, and nearly half of its 12 bowl wins. None was more impressive than the 1998 variety, which featured a 42-3 Tar Heel demolition of Virginia Tech. The blowout put an exclamation point on an 11-1 season, one of the most successful in Carolina history.

North Carolina Bowl History (12-14)
2008 Meineke Car Care West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30
2004 Continental Tire Boston College 37, North Carolina 24
2001 Peach North Carolina 16, Auburn 10
1998 Las Vegas North Carolina 20, San Diego State 13
1997 Gator North Carolina 42, Virginia Tech 3
1996 Gator North Carolina 20, West Virginia 13
1995 Carquest North Carolina 20, Arkansas 10
1994 Sun Texas 35, North Carolina 31
1993 Gator Alabama 24, North Carolina 10
1992 Peach North Carolina 21, Mississippi State 17
1986 Aloha Arizona 30, North Carolina 21
1983 Peach Florida State 28, North Carolina 3
1982 Sun North Carolina 26, Texas 10
1981 Gator North Carolina 31, Arkansas 27
1980 Bluebonnet North Carolina 16, Texas 7
1979 Gator North Carolina 17, MichiganState 15
1977 Liberty Nebraska 21, North Carolina 17
1976 Peach Kentucky 21, North Carolina 0
1974 Sun Mississippi State 26, North Carolina 24
1972 Sun North Carolina 32, Texas Tech 28
1971 Gator Georgia 7, North Carolina 3
1970 Peach Arizona State 48, North Carolina 26
1963 Gator North Carolina 35, Air Force 0
1949 Cotton Rice 27, North Carolina 13
1948 Sugar Oklahoma 14, North Carolina 6
1946 Sugar Georgia 20, North Carolina 10
Pitt Bowl History (10-15)
2007 Sun Oregon St 3, Pitt 0
2005 Fiesta Utah 35, Pitt 7
2003 Continental Tire Virginia 23, Pittsburgh 16
2002 Insight Pittsburgh 38, Oregon State 13
2001 Tangerine Pittsburgh 34, NC State 19
2000 Insight.com Iowa State 37, Pittsburgh 29
1997 Liberty Southern Miss 41, Pittsburgh 7
1989 John Hancock Pittsburgh 31, Texas A&M 28
1987 Bluebonnet Texas 32, Pittsburgh 27
1983 Fiesta Ohio State 28, Pittsburgh 23
1982 Cotton SMU 7, Pittsburgh 3
1981 Sugar Pittsburgh 24, Georgia 20
1980 Gator Pittsburgh 37, South Carolina 9
1979 Fiesta Pittsburgh 16, Arizona 10
1978 Tangerine North Carolina St. 30, Pittsburgh 17
1977 Gator Pittsburgh 34, Clemson 3
1976 Sugar Pittsburgh 27, Georgia 3
1975 Sun Pittsburgh 33, Kansas 19
1973 Fiesta Arizona State 28, Pittsburgh 7
1956 Gator Georgia Tech 21, Pittsburgh 14
1955 Sugar Georgia Tech 7, Pittsburgh 0
1936 Rose Pittsburgh 21, Washington 0
1932 Rose USC 35, Pittsburgh 0
1929 Rose USC 47, Pittsburgh 14
1927 Rose Stanford 7, Pittsburgh 6