A mini-Orange Bowl for UNC and WVU

Published 2:50 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

By Staff
By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — For a while this season, there was a reasonable chance that North Carolina and West Virginia would meet in the postseason. Just not in Charlotte.
The Tar Heels spent much of the year in the mix in the up-for-grabs Atlantic Coast Conference — and for the trip to Miami that goes to its champion — until two losses in November dropped them out of contention.
They insist they’re content with their consolation prize — a short trip across the state for the Meineke Bowl to face a West Virginia team that is in a similar situation after letting its chance to win the Big East slip away.
Call their upcoming matchup a mini-Orange Bowl.
The Dec. 27 game will be the first of three between the ACC and Big East this postseason.
N.C. State plays Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl two days later, before league champions Cincinnati and Virginia Tech face off in the Orange.
But a month ago, it wasn’t unrealistic to think these two teams would meet in Miami on New Year’s Day.
Both the Tar Heels (8-4) and Mountaineers (8-4) were near the top of their conferences and spent considerable time in the national rankings before untimely losses dropped them off the pace. Three of North Carolina’s defeats came by a combined eight points, while preseason Big East favorite West Virginia was 10 points away from finishing 11-1.
The Tar Heels spent much of this season doing just that after going 3-0 against Top 25 teams and reversing their 4-8 record from 2007 in coach Butch Davis’ second season in Chapel Hill.
On Saturday they’ll resume practicing for their first bowl berth since the 2004 team also claimed a spot in the Charlotte-based bowl. They’re chasing their first postseason victory since beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl in 2001 — also the last time they finished above .500 — and can reach their first nine-win season since Mack Brown’s final North Carolina team went 11-1 in 1997.