North Carolina coach Butch Davis and Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt have been on the same Jimmy Johnson coaching staff for 11 seasons, including four at Oklahoma State, three at Miami and four with the Dallas Cowboys. There will be some familiarity on the opposing sidelines Saturday, but Davis and Wannstedt never met as opposing coaches in the NFL. UNC leads this series 4-2, but four of the six games have been decided by 10 points or less. Expect another close one.
Here’s a quick scouting report on the Meineke Car Care Bowl:
WHAT TO WATCH: The battle up front. If UNC’s defensive line can hold up, it should help linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter to pursue the Panthers’ standout running back, Dion Lewis. Robert Quinn is one of the best defensive ends in the country, and he enters the game with 19.0 tackles for losses of 120 yards and 11.0 sacks for 94 yards. He also has forced six fumbles and has 15 quarterback hurries. Sturdivant and Lewis should get to know each other pretty well in this game.
WHO TO WATCH: UNC quarterback T.J. Yates. He’s had an inconsistent season, but some of that can be attributed to his young receivers and average-at-best pass protection. He enters the bowl game needing 224 yards to reach the 6,000-yard career passing mark. For the season, Yates is 195-of-323 for 1,953 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He’ll need to limit the mistakes in this game and help UNC win the turnover battle, but his supporting cast will have to help him out more, too.
WHY TO WATCH: For the first time in more than a decade, UNC is making an appearance in back-to-back bowls. Carolina’s 16 wins over the last two years are the most by a Tar Heel team since posting 21 victories in 1996 and 1997. The program is changing under Davis, but can it take the next step and gain a postseason win? UNC has proven it’s capable of the upset this season, as it earned wins against No. 14 Virginia Tech and No. 12 Miami. A win over Pittsburgh would give Carolina nine wins for just the 15th time in school history and the first time since 1997.
PREDICTION: Pitt has a tendency to find a way to lose (See: Big East title on the line versus Cincinnati and regular-season game against NC State). The Tar Heels will have the edge with Davis on the sidelines, Yates will redeem himself from an inconsistent season, and UNC’s defense will once again be the difference. They’ll pressure Bill Stull into mistakes and come out on top of a defensive game. UNC wins, 21-17.