The No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels’ (11-1, 8-0) last trip to Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium could’ve completely derailed head coach Larry Fedora’s squad and their hopes for the entire season. The Tar Heels began the year committing three turnovers and losing 17-13 to the Gamecocks, a squad that finished the year a poor 3-9.
The loss would stain the Tar Heels in the eyes of pollsters for weeks after. North Carolina wouldn’t garner a single vote in the Associated Press Top 25 until seven weeks later, and didn’t crack the rankings until Week 10.
But the Tar Heels return to the scene of their early-season crime on a 10-game winning streak, and this time stand to upend the No. 1 Clemson Tigers’ (12-0, 8-0 ACC) chances for the ACC Championship and a potential spot in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Of course, the Tar Heels are also hoping a victory will propel them exactly where the Tigers have been for the entire second-half of the season. Clemson’s stood atop of the CFP rankings since they were first released in Week 10, fighting off No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Iowa in the process.
Yet North Carolina has a case to make to the CFP selection committee, especially if they can hand Clemson it’s only loss of the season. It would stand as the Tar Heels second victory over a ranked opponent, and they would own one of the most coveted conference titles in the country.
However, there’s also reason to believe the Tigers won’t fall out of the CFP’s final four if they lose by a small margin. Owning a perfect regular season record for the first time since 1981, when they last claimed a national title, the Tigers enter the matchup as five-point favorites despite blasting opponents for an average winning-margin of 19 points per contest this season, including victories over then-No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 16 Florida State.
And Clemson certainly has the all-time edge over North Carolina. The Tigers have been a dominate 36-19-1 in a series that dates back to 1897, and won five of the last six games since 2002. North Carolina’s sole victory came in 2010, and that year stands out as the only losing season during Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s eight-year tenure.
But as the two-highest scoring teams in the ACC square off for the crown, the Tar Heels and quarterback Marquise Williams will almost certainly have more of a home-field crowd cheering them on at the neutral site.
The senior’s launched 18 touchdown passes and thrown for 2,605 yards, while gaining another 786 yards and 10 more scores on the ground to finish second in the ACC in total offensive yards.
Williams’ also relied on the conference’s No. 2 rusher, Elijah Hood. The sophomore’s ripped off 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns, a nearly five-fold improvement from last season.
Still, the Tigers are the only squad in the conference who can match North Carolina’s considerable firepower. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was first in the ACC with 3,979 total offensive yards, firing off 27 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions and tying running back Wayne Gallman for the team-lead with nine rushing scores. Watson was also the most efficient passer in the conference, owning a 161.9 rating, helping Gallman rank third with 1,145 yards.
Betting Line: Clemson -5
Over/under: 67.5 points
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Prediction: Clemson over North Carolina, 37-30