First place in the ACC will be up for grabs on Thursday night when the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-1, 3-0) visit the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers (6-1, 4-0) at Heinz Field. Defense was in short order when the two schools met last season in Chapel Hill, as the Heels came from behind to win, 40-35. While both look much different this season, it should be another close battle.
The Panthers’ only loss this season was by a field goal at No. 10 Iowa on Sept. 19. They bounced back with four straight wins, including two on the road against Georgia Tech and Syracuse to climb two spots in the AP top 25 poll.
In Saturday's 23-20 win over the Orange, running back Qadree Ollison rushed for 103 yards and two scores. The freshman has gone over a hundred yards three times this season and notched 207 on the ground in the season opener. Ollison is No. 4 in the ACC in rushing yards (662) and averages 5.6 yards per carry to go with seven touchdowns on the season.
Panther quarterback Nathan Peterman has done his part with six touchdowns and zero interceptions during the winning streak. On the season, Peterman has nine touchdowns, three picks and a 154.4 rating. His favorite target has been Tyler Boyd, who despite only playing six games this year, leads the ACC in receptions (53). Boyd has four touchdowns and his 489 receiving yards rank him No. 2 in the conference.
On the other sideline, North Carolina holds opponents to 16.7 points per game. UNC forced five second-half turnovers in last week’s 26-13 win over Virginia and is riding a streak of their own. After losing to South Carolina in the season opener, UNC has rattled off six consecutive wins by scoring points with relative ease. Larry Fedora’s team is No. 1 in the ACC in yards per game, and is tied with Clemson for the highest scoring team in the ACC (34.8 points per game), led by quarterback Marquise Williams.
Williams leads the most prolific passing team in the conference (258.3 passing yards per game) and is No. 6 in the ACC with 1,353 pass yards. He has also been a weapon on the ground, rushing for 7.0 yards per carry and 476 yards. Since Week 2, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He will be facing a Pittsburgh defense that has seven interceptions over the past four games.
Elijah Hood paces the Tar Heels’ offense on the ground. He’s No. 5 in the ACC with 646 rushing yards and No. 3 in the conference with eight rushing touchdowns, including two last week against Virginia. Hood has rushed for over a hundred yards and scored a touchdown five times each in 2015. The Panthers defense has conceded a combined 512 yards on the ground over the last two weeks.
The ball gets spread all over the field in Chapel Hill, with four receivers at 300 yards or better so far this season. Quinshad Davis leads the team in receptions with 30 but Mack Hollins leads the group with five touchdowns, including three scores on Oct. 17 versus Wake Forest.
Betting Line: North Carolina by 2.5 points
Over/Under: 52 points
Prediction: Though they haven't been tested by a ranked team this season, North Carolina’s offense can score against the likes of Pittsburgh. Williams and Co. should get it done on the ground in a tight road win against the Panthers.
Predicted Score: Tar Heels win, 30-27