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UNC vs. West Virginia: Game Preview

A rollercoaster of a season comes to an end.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Appalachian State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

What was really the story of North Carolina’s 2023 football season? A Duke’s Mayonnaise breaded sandwich. That’s the hard hitting analysis.

The Tar Heels started their season in Bank of America Stadium against South Carolina competing in the Duke’s Mayo Classic. Tomorrow, the same team, with a lot different personnel, will take on West Virginia in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, in the same location.

It’s been a season of highs, lows, and lots of head-scratching for Mack Brown and his group. Another installment of UNC Football found itself in the ‘what if?’ category after doing just about the minimum with a 6-0 top-10 start. But in reality, this year has come and gone. A large handful of players have already moved on and those still on board with this program have refocused their visions to the future. North Carolina has a chance to end things on the right note against the Mountaineers.

West Virginia (8-4) enters as winners of four of their final five, with that lone loss being to Oklahoma. The Mountaineers identity is their ability to run the football, and even though they'll be missing CJ Donaldson, their leading rusher, WVU has a tandem of backs that will replace his absence without missing a step.

Quarterback Garrett Greene has been another reason WVU has been so successful offensively. The dual threat QB has been effective and has a tendency to use his legs just as much as any ball carrier on their roster.

The Tar Heels, on the other hand, have their fair share of early departures leaving Mack Brown slightly limited in how he can spread the football. As many of us know, Drake Maye will not be under center in Charlotte. Conner Harrell, who looked amazing against Campbell, will be the quarterback for North Carolina. Tez Walker and Cedric Gray are two other notable names that won't suit up.

On paper, the Mountaineers look like the easy pick. Unless the Heels have magically cleaned up their run defense and ability to adjust to tempo, they may be in some trouble. We also have no idea what the redshirt freshman QB will look like against a Power 5 defense. What we do know is that North Carolina will have Omarion Hampton, which gives UNC a fighting chance because he’s just that good.

The point of emphasis in picking this game lies in time of possession. Whoever wins this stat likely wins the game, and that basically boils down to who can run the ball better. I am excited as anyone to see Conner Harrell make things happen, but how much can you realistically expect? I guess we'll find out.

Bowl games are tricky, especially because both of these teams enter the contest with different trajectories. There is enough skill and talent on the roster for the Tar Heels to hang around in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, but I'd expect that the proven success on the ground from West Virginia may be too much down the stretch.

The only thing I'd note is that UNC will march a lot of new faces onto the field. That may not be such a bad thing. The volatility of who we will see may invite some youth and fire to a team that most likely isn't too motivated to dump mayonnaise on their head coach.

If the last two seasons have taught me anything, it's near impossible to predict the product that Mack Brown and his team will put on the field on any given day. That precedent remains, but I continue to fall back on the fact that the North Carolina defense, who lost a lot, is facing an elite rushing offense.

Prediction: West Virginia 34, North Carolina 21