Meienke Car Quest Bowl, Charlotte, 1 pm
North Carolina vs West Virginia. Lines, WVA -2, O/U 48
Heading into the second week of November, both of these teams were in the driver's seat in their leagues and looked to be heading to a possible BCS Bowl Game. Alas, both faded down the stretch. For the Mountaineers, that was a huge disappointment as a veteran team, paced by a record setting QB, were heavy favorites in their leagues. For the Heels, it was a letdown, to be sure, but just being in that position was big time progress for a program that is young and talented with better days expected ahead.
West Virginia is not happy to be ending their season in this bowl. They expected to be playing in January. From the get go, it was obvious this program missed Rich Rodriguez. They weren't sharp coming out of August and never really regained whatever mojo they had had working in previous years. New Coach Bill Stewart promised a more downfield passing attack. The result was taking a record setting QB and forcing him to pass. That experiment did not work. The Mountaineers seemed flat all year on offense and in a lot of their key games this year only moved the ball in spurts. In most cases, if you limited the big play, the offense was unable to march down the field. One of the more powerful rushing attacks over the last three seasons, only scored 14 touchdowns on the ground all season. But the new fangled passing attack made up for that, right? Ah, no, not really as WVA finished 109th in the nation in passing offense.
UNC, meanwhile, has a young, exciting team. They dont do anything great, but they have a lot of fast, athletic football players whose sum combines to be greater than its parts, statistics be damned. In one of the more competitive ACC seasons ever, it was telling that such a young team was able to navigate it with enough success that it almost stole the league crown.
The Mountaineers have a lot of name players like Pat White and Noel Devine. The public knows the players and most casual observers would expect that talented duo to be enough to get the win. Not so fast, my friends.
Consider this: The Heels are 6-3 straight up versus bowl teams. WVA, on the other hand, is just 3-3 SU versus bowl teams. UNC has been able to elevate its game and fight hard against the better teams on its slate. WVA has not looked good against better foes. In those games against bowlers, WVA averaged just under 20 ppg, and three times held to 15 or fewer points. UNC is 30th in the country in scoring D, so there's plenty of reason to expect that the Heels can limit WVA the way ECU, Pitt and USF (WVA scored 3, 15 and 13 respectively against those guys) did in games this year.
I dont want to pile on WVA all day here. They have plenty of great players. Their defense will get after UNC. But I've watched just about every quarter of action these teams have played and there's something intangibly wrong with WVA and good with UNC. I know which team I trust to win the game. That would be the Heels, who played a tougher schedule and came out looking better. Frankly, put this year's WVA in the ACC and they would be lucky to have even been bowl eligible.
With Marvin Austin up front and Bruce Carter and Quin Stourdivant at linebacker, UNC has enough power, speed and tackling ability to more than contain White and Devine. Throw in Kendric Burney and Trimmane Stoddard, playmakers and ballhawkers in the UNC secondary, and I just think WVA is going to have a hard time cranking up its offense. Yes, White might rip off a vintage run or two, but I dont think they will sustain a lot of drives. This is a deep, talented and hungry defense which matches up well against WVA. The problem for WVA is that they have nothing to lean on when the Heels close down their bread and butter.
WVA has some great defensive numbers in its own right and have kept their foes from lighting up the scoreboard all year. However, UNC has been very good at holding onto the ball. They have TJ yates back at QB who is as healthy as he's been since the first half of the season. He has an awesome target in Hakeem Nicks, whose tall, physical style will create matchups problems for the WVA secondary. And, I expect the UNC special teams, which has been a boon to them all season long, to set them up on short fields in key moments throughout this game. Look for the Tar Heels to block a kick as well in this game.
The Pick: UNC +2, 3 Units......I've won a lot playing UNC games this year. From what I have seen, they are the better team in this game. WVA has had no consistency and I dont trust them in a big spot. The Heels are 7-4 ATS while the 'Neers are 4-7. But, here's where the rubber meets the road: We have two even teams. One is coached by Butch Davis. The other coached by Bill Stewart. Do you really need to do a lot of soul searching to figure out which team will be better prepped heading into the game? Throw in the fact that UNC will be playing in front of a home state crowd, and I have no problems going to the window and buying a big Carolina Blue ticket. I'm glad we talked this one out.
Diarist note....i published this tonight as I will be travelling tomorrow morning. I'll have picks on the other two bowl games, including Wisco's game as the Big 10 opens its bowl season, early in the afternoon.