Meineke Car Care Bowl: Pittsburgh Panthers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Pittsburgh Panthers (9-3 SU, 6-5 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4 SU, 5-5 ATS), 4:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, December 26, 2009, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Pittsburgh -2.5/North Carolina +2.5
Over/Under: 44.5

Bowl games are neutral venue games, but the Meineke Car Care Bowl will be like a home game for the North Carolina Tar Heels, as the game is being played in Charlotte. The Heels will face a tough Pittsburgh Panthers team that started off 9-1 before losing its last two games to West Virginia and Cincinnati.

Pitt had a disappointing end to its season. The Panthers had an opportunity at a Big East title and a BCS berth but they lost two close battles to end the season. After losing their first game of the season earlier in the year to NC State after the Panthers had a two-touchdown lead late in the third quarter, they lost by a field goal at West Virginia. But the Panthers still had a chance to win the Big East and get into the BCS with a win over Cincinnati. They scored a late touchdown to break a 38-38 tie, but a missed extra point left the door open for the Bearcats. Tony Pike led Cincy down the field and threw a game-winning touchdown pass that was followed by an extra point to give the Bearcats a 45-44 victory, an undefeated regular season, a Big East title and a BCS berth.

Pitt has a chance to redeem its late season frustration by defeating UNC in front of what will be a pro-Tar Heel crowd for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. If Pitt plays the way it has played all season long, the Panthers should have no problem winning this game.

Pitt’s offense revolves around Dion Lewis, the third leading rusher in the country with 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns. The key for the Panthers will be to get Lewis going and create short second and third down situations. Bill Stull is a solid quarterback who runs the offense well for the Panthers. He has 2,470 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His main target is Jonathan Baldwin, who has 54 receptions, 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns. Dorin Dickerson has almost as many receptions as Baldwin (45) and more touchdowns (10), but he has less than half the yardage (508).

North Carolina also had a tough result in its last game of the season. The Tar Heels had won four games in a row, including a pair of wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, two top 15 teams at the time, but they lost their last one at NC State, 28-27. The Heels had a field goal attempt blocked in the final five minutes of the game.

UNC is a team that revolves around its defense. The Heels don’t have a dominant offensive attack by any means, but their defense has held eight of 12 opponents to under 20 points and 10 of 12 opponents to 24 or fewer points. Florida State’s 30 points in a 30-27 win over the Heels was the most any team scored against them this season.

The UNC is offense is led by quarterback T.J. Yates, who is capable of putting up big numbers but is quite inconsistent. He has thrown 14 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns this season while totaling 1,953 yards. Ryan Houston is the team’s running back. He has 630 yards and nine touchdowns.

North Carolina’s defense has allowed 174.9 passing yards per game and 10 passing touchdowns while intercepting 19 passes. Its run defense has allowed 92.8 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Both the Heels pass defense and run defense are ranked ninth in the country.

The total has gone under in six of Pitt’s last eight games. UNC is 4-1 ATS in its last five games. The total has gone over in four of the Tar Heels’ last six games.

Ryno’s Pick: With this game being played in Charlotte, the Tar Heels are going to have a lot of support and will be excited to play in this game. Pitt has the better overall talent between these two teams but the Panthers may be a little down after narrowly missing the BCS and may not be as motivated for this game. For those reasons, North Carolina is a good bet and should win this game. But the over looks like the better play. The Tar Heels have a very good defense that just has to focus on shutting down Pitt’s run game. If Lewis can’t dominate, it makes it much harder for Stull to take over and complete passes. UNC’s offense is not very strong and probably won’t put up more than two touchdowns in this game. The first team to 20 should win this one. Take the under of 44.5.