When North Carolina's offense takes the field on Saturday for its first possession of the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl, chances are good that the Tar Heels will show some looks similar to those that West Virginia's defense has seen at other times over the past couple of years.
However just as UNC's defense cannot totally simulate the speed and talent of West Virginia's Pat White and Noel Devine, the Mountaineers won't really know what to expect from their ACC foe until the ball is kicked at 1:00 Saturday afternoon inside Bank of America Stadium.
Still, there are a few comparisons that can be made between North Carolina and a couple of other opponents WVU has faced this season and in previous years.
"That's a good question," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said last week when asked if UNC stacked up similarly to any Big East or out of conference teams the Mountaineers have faced recently. "I think they're similar probably in style to Rutgers and a little bit of Pitt."
Those two comparisons give WVU fans a mixture of good news and bad news, depending on what perspective you're looking at it from. If you look at it from the Rutgers angle, it's good news. The Mountaineers have owned the Scarlet Knights, winning 13 straight over the State University of New Jersey including this season's 24-17 win at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Of course if you're from the glass half-full crowd, you'll dually note that Pitt has captured two consecutive Backyard Brawls, each of which kept WVU from having a chance to play in a bigger bowl game.
Again, though, don't talk yourself into thinking that UNC is exactly like Rutgers or exactly like Pitt. They just have certain elements and components offensively that are reminiscent of what the Scarlet Knights and Panthers try to do.
"They're going to have two backs in the backfield and two tight ends on the field the majority of the time," Casteel noted. "They get into some eleven personnel to throw the football. They have capable people, really, all over the place to move the ball with receivers and running backs. They have typical 6-6, 6-7 tackles and big kids up front. It will be a challenge."
Perhaps no North Carolina player will challenge the Mountaineers more than wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. The junior, who will be playing in his hometown of Charlotte, has 60 pass receptions for 1,005 yards on the season. When star receiver Brandon Tate went down with a knee injury in the middle of the season, Nicks filled the void to keep the UNC passing game as potent as it was prior to Tate's injury. Nicks also has nine touchdown catches on the year.
When looking at Nicks on film, Casteel again goes back to a familiar Big East foe to find an ample comparison.
"I think he's probably like (first team all-Big East receiver Kenny) Britt at Rutgers in that he's a big, strong, physical player that runs very well," Casteel said of Nicks. "They're going to get him the ball in different ways in terms of reverses and, obviously, throwing the ball downfield as well as on screens. I would say he is close physically to the Britt kid in comparison."
Britt has been a thorn in the side of WVU and just about every other team he has faced. Just because the Mountaineers have seen a similar player, though, does not necessarily mean that they'll have a leg up on slowing down the talented Tar Heel playmaker.
"No," Casteel said with a shake of his head. "Great players are great players whether they are 6-3, 210 pounds or small guys. It's a different game, so I don't think that (seeing a comparable player in Britt earlier this season) has anything to do with anything."
At the end of the day, of course, comparisons and familiarity don't move the football, make tackles or score touchdowns. Despite having a good feel from watching tape of what UNC wants to do, this game – and any game – will come down to which team executes the best.
"Our kids have to just go out and play how they're capable of playing," Casteel concluded. "I'm sure that North Carolina's coaches and players feel the same way. The team that's limited in its mistakes that day is the team that's going to win."