Meineke Car Care Bowl: Pitt vs. UNC
At the beginning of the season if you told the Pitt Panthers that they’d end up in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (MCC from now on) they’d probably be pretty satisfied. Going in to the year Pitt would have been happy with a solid mid-range bowl, they were losing their best playmaker (LeSean McCoy) to the NFL and had serious questions at quarterback. By the end of the season, the MCC Bowl represents a major disappointment after last second losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati knocked them out of major bowl consideration.
The Tar Heels are a bit of the opposite of the Panthers, at the beginning of the season they would have been a bit disappointed to go (return) to the MCC Bowl. Despite losing their top three receivers, UNC looked like a team on the rise. With a good quarterback T.J. Yates and a top notch defense, they could have maybe made a run at the ACC title. After a disappointing season which saw them lose to both UVA and NC State (two of the ACC’s weaker teams), the Tar Heels should be pretty happy they ended up with roughly a home bowl game.
So who comes out ahead when these to teams meet on the field today? I think it will be close but I see Pitt squeaking it out in the end. Both teams have very good defenses, with UNC’s the more dominate of the two (and balanced). But Pitt has the offensive weapons to go along with their defense. Bill Stull has really come on this season to be a pretty good quarterback for the Panthers. Pittsburgh has possibly the best running back-wide receiver combo in college football with Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin. Lewis has filled McCoy’s shoes and is one of the best running backs in the country despite being a true freshman. Lewis had 98 more rushing yards this season than Heisman winner Mark Ingram (despite playing in one fewer game this season). Baldwin is one of the best receivers in the nation who is overlooked because Pittsburgh is a balanced offense, with a strong running game. Baldwin was third in the nation among receivers with 1,000 or more yards in yards per catch (20.0). In addition with Baldwin and Lewis the Panthers have a number of other quality weapons who would be top receivers or running backs on most other teams. One other player that did stand out is TE Dorin Dickerson, who had 10 touchdowns this year and was named first team All-American.
Given Pitt’s offensive weapons, I think they get by the stellar Tar Heels defense, 21-17.