Rival universities meet on Saturday after swapping appearances in the AP Top 25 poll in headline-grabbing fashion. No. 21 North Carolina (7-1) earned their biggest win of the season, defeating then-No. 23 Pittsburgh on the road and extending their winning streak to seven while moving to the top of the ACC Coastal standings. The Tar Heels host Duke (6-2), who had entered Week 9 at No. 22 but fell out of the AP poll after Miami scored a stunning and controversial last-second touchdown on an eight-lateral kickoff return to win the game.
The ACC later suspended the officiating crew and replay official after video tape showed one Miami ball carrier's knee touching the ground and another Hurricanes player running on the field from the sideline before the end of the play. But that's of little consolation to the Blue Devils, who dropped to No. 3 in the standings and now appear to be in a must-win situation to keep their division hopes alive with four games remaining on the schedule.
North Carolina opened as eight-point favorites, according to Sportsbook.ag, but the line has moved to 7.5 points. The Heels began the season with a loss in Charlotte to South Carolina, but have won seven of their last eight games at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill.
While David Cutcliffe's squad may still be reeling from the loss to Miami, their division hopes are still alive. A victory this weekend would create a three-way tie for first with North Carolina and Pittsburgh, clouding up the ACC Championship Game picture. A win for UNC would put them in the driver’s seat to play in the conference championship.
The Tar Heels average 36.9 points per game behind all-purpose quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood. Williams has throwns and rushed for 16 total touchdowns while Hood ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing yards (744) and is tied for third in touchdowns (8). Williams and Hood combined for 150 rushing yards in last week’s 26-19 win at Heinz Field.
Duke’s defense has played well all season and is No. 11 nationally in points allowed (17) and No. 9 in average yards allowed (295). They’ve forced eight turnovers in the last five games including two in a win over then-No. 20 Georgia Tech on Sept. 26.
North Carolina's defense has made an impressive turnaround under first-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Last year, the Tar Heels set program records for yards and points allowed per game. This season, they rank No. 15 in the country in points allowed (17 per game) and third in passing defense (152.9 yards).
The Blue Devils offense is led by the versatile Thomas Sirk. Not only has the redshirt junior thrown for 1,788 yards (No. 3 in the ACC) but he leads all Duke rushers with 481 yards. In his first full season running the offense, Sirk has rushed for three touchdowns and thrown 12 touchdown passes to seven different receivers.
North Carolina upset then-No. 25 Duke last season in Durham, 45-20, to earn the Victory Bell. In their last 25 meetings, the Tar Heels have gotten the better of their local rival with a 22-3 record.
Start Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Betting Line: North Carolina -7.5
Over/Under: 57.5 points
TV Channel: ESPN 2
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Prediction: Both teams play good defense but North Carolina rushes for over 200 yards per game with a two-headed monster in Hood and Williams. With rain in the forecast, an effective ground game will be even more important. Sirk should have a strong game, but it probably won't be enough to win this tighter-than-expected matchup.
Predicted Score: North Carolina over Duke, 27-21.