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West Virginia (8-4) vs. North Carolina (8-4)



Saturday, December 27th, 1:00 p.m. (et)

From The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor

GAME NOTES: The West Virginia Mountaineers and the North Carolina Tar Heels are set to square off in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium this weekend.

The Mountaineers put together another solid regular-season campaign, finishing 8-4, although it wasn't as strong as years past. WVU got off to a slow start before finding its groove and ripping off five straight wins in the middle of the season. The team, though, went just 2-2 down the stretch, costing it a chance at another Big East title. Still, this is the program's seventh consecutive bowl appearances and its 28th overall. The Mountaineers own a 12-15 record all-time in bowl games, including a 48-28 upset of Oklahoma in last season's Fiesta Bowl. Bill Stewart was actually the interim coach for that bowl win before being hired on a permanent basis, so he knows all about the importance of preparation.

"We are having some good practices and they have been giving good effort," stated Stewart about his players. "I'm happy about that. I think we need to pay attention to detail even more because anytime you have a break in the action, you go home and then reconvene in a bowl, I guess that's standard. Our men have been working hard and I'm very proud of that."

As for UNC, it had a similar season to WVU and it too comes into the postseason with an 8-4 ledger. After opening the season with seven wins in nine games, the Tar Heels had earned a spot in the national rankings and appeared in control of the ACC. The team though, dropped two of its final three contests, ending its chances of winning the ACC. Still, it was a great turnaround for UNC, which finished just 4-8 under head coach Butch Davis in 2007.

"We wanted to play in meaningful games, games that were important," Davis said. "We wanted to play on national TV. We wanted to play when the blimp was in the air. There were a lot of things that we were able to accomplish this year and going to a bowl game is certainly one of those steps along the journey of trying to build the program."

Davis certainly has put UNC football back on the map and the Tar Heels are set to make their 26th bowl appearance this weekend. The program is 12-13 all-time in such games and is looking for its first win since beating Auburn in the 2001 Peach Bowl.

UNC and WVU have met just one time previously on the gridiron, with the Tar Heels posting a 20-13 victory in the 1997 Gator Bowl.

Behind the tandem of Noel Devine and Pat White, the Mountaineers are rolling up 217.2 ypg on the ground this season. Devine, a speedy and elusive back, took over for Steve Slaton this season and showed he could carry the load by rushing for 1,228 yards. He didn't score many touchdowns, only three, but he did average a solid 6.4 yards per carry, while also ranking second on the team with 34 catches. Devine though, is listed as questionable for this game due to academics and that could be a huge blow for the Mountaineers. As for White, he has enjoyed success throughout his career and he is currently the NCAA's all- time leader in rushing yards for a quarterbacks with 4,425. This season, White has rushed for 919 yards and eight scores, and he also showed off his arm by throwing for 18 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Jock Sanders is clearly his target of choice, as he leads the team with 48 catches, 392 receiving yards and seven scores.

On defense, the Mountaineers probably deserve a little more recognition for a stout regular-season campaign in which they held opponents to a mere 15.9 ppg. The unit was decent against the run (134.8 ypg) and solid versus the pass (190.7 ypg) and did a nice job in forcing 26 turnovers, including 16 interceptions. WVU even did a respectable job in bringing down opposing gun- slingers, registering 24 sacks on the campaign. J.T. Thomas played a big part in the pass rush, leading the team in TFLs (nine) to go with three sacks. Mortty Ivy, though, has been the most consistent player for this defense, notching 86 stops, six TFls and three interceptions.

Like many of the ACC team's this season, UNC wasn't exactly all that explosive on offense, averaging a modest 317.3 total ypg on the year. Under center, the Tar Heels went with a combination of quarterbacks in T.J. Yates and Cameron Sexton. Yates, who missed five games with a broken ankle, is expected to make the start this weekend, but if he struggles, Sexton could step in. In six games this season, Yates completed 60.0 percent of his tosses for 957 yards, with nine touchdowns against just three picks. Sexton, in eight appearances, hit on 56.0 percent of his pass attempts for 1,261 yards, with nine touchdowns versus six interceptions. Whomever is under center will surely be looking in the direction of Hakeem Nicks, the team's top target with 60 receptions for 1,005 yards and nine scores. In the backfield, Shaun Draughn paces the Tar Heels with 801 yards, but he didn't have many big games, cracking the century mark on only three occasions.

UNC's defense played well for most of the season and enters the bowl game allowing just 20.3 ppg and 357.9 total ypg. The unit has given up a few too many yards on the ground (140.8 ypg) and through the air (217.2 ypg), but not enough to be consider a mediocre group. The Tar Heels have countered many of those yards by forcing 27 turnovers, including 19 interceptions. The defense, however, did a struggle a little to get into the backfield, recording only 18 sacks on the season. Quan Sturdivant and Mark Paschal highlight this unit with their tackling ability, as they have posted 111 and 103 stops, respectively. Paschal though, will not be available for this game due to a spine injury. Another player worth keeping an eye on is Trimane Goddard, who can make the big play and leads the team with seven interceptions.

The Mountaineers have a few more big-play threats than do the Tar Heels and their defense has also been better, so go with WVU in what should be a close contest.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 27, North Carolina 21

12/23 12:00:05 ET


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