2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/18/2008
West Virginia vs. North Carolina
Conference Matchup: Big East vs. ACC
Date: 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Odds: 'Pick 'Em'; Total 46.5
A mild air of disappointment and missed opportunities hangs over the Meineke Car Care Bowl like the mid-winter clouds in the gray Carolina sky.
Roughly 12 months ago West Virginia was one game away from potentially playing for a national championship and North Carolina was 4-8 and wondering when they would manage to finally turn their program around. Now the two teams will square off on Saturday, Dec. 27 in Charlotte in a game that each team seems to have had to settle for.
West Virginia got off to a slow start in the Bill Stewart Era, taking an early beating at East Carolina and losing another three games by a combined 13 points. Their offense was ranked just 84th in the nation after Week 3 and Stewarts offense struggled to get going throughout most of the season. But the Mountaineers never mailed it in and won seven of their last nine games to salvage their season. Their defense improved to No. 34 in the country and their offense managed to do just enough to get the job done, scoring over 30 points in three of their last six games.
North Carolina has been somewhat of a surprise throughout this season. They won five of their first six games and were 8-2 in mid-November with a strong shot at a trip to the ACC Championship Game. However, they dropped two of their last three games and had to watch as teams that they beat throughout the year scored better bowl games. And while it's nice that they are playing their bowl game just a bus ride away there's a certain disappointment with not being able to hit some exotic locale to put a cap on the year.
So both teams are settling for the Meineke Bowl, which feels a bit like a used car for these clubs. But one team will win and one team will cash here and it's a tricky pick to figure out who and how that will all shake out.
North Carolina earned two blowout wins over Big East teams this year, rocking Rutgers, 44-12, and creaming Connecticut, 38-12. West Virginia split its two major nonconference games, dumping a tight one at Colorado but avalanching Auburn in Morgantown.
West Virginia has a decided experience edge. Their seniors are undefeated in bowl games, including upset wins on Georgia's home turf in 2006 and a blowout over Oklahoma last January. You know that Pat White wants to close out his career in style and that one of the nation's top offensive lines, with four senior starters, is going to come to play. Also, their defense actually finished in the Top 10 in points allowed (15.9) and may be good enough to hold down the young Tar Heels attack.
However, the Mountaineers are just 3-10 ATS against the ACC and their bowl success came under the regime of Rich Rodriquez. North Carolina is clearly the more athletic team and should come out with more energy and enthusiasm because it is the first bowl game in the Butch Davis Era. Carolina's defense definitely has enough speed to keep up with the WVU spread and playing just a few miles from campus can't hurt either.
This game is going to be one of the few sellouts on the docket for this bowl season and should be an emotionally charged tilt for regional bragging rights. And no matter how the teams feel heading into this game - and both have reasons to be motivated and to be disappointed - once the pads start bashing this one is going to be less about "feelings" and more about dexterity and determination.