North Carolina (5-5) at Duke (8-2)Nov. 20, 7:30, ESPN
Here's The Deal: The annual battle for the Victory Bell will have a different ring to it this year. For the first time, Duke and Carolina’s dislike for one another will be on display for a national audience on a Thursday night. Oh, and there’ll be plenty at stake in Durham. The Blue Devils are still trying to cling to the top spot in the Coastal Division, even after flubbing last week’s game with Virginia Tech. And they control their own destiny by virtue of an Oct. 11 win over Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels have their sights fixed on more modest pursuits, like rallying for postseason eligibility for a second straight year. The erratic Heels are coming off a critical come-from-behind win to beat Pitt last week.
Why North Carolina Might Win: The Heels have taken three of their last four games, largely on the backs of the offense. QB Marquise Williams fuels the ACC’s third-highest scoring team, using his strong arm and his nifty wheels to dissect opposing defenses. The junior, along with his eclectic band of wide receivers, generates more firepower than the entire Blue Devil offense, which has not gotten consistent play from its hurler, Anthony Boone.
Why Duke Might Win: The Blue Devils’ edge will be on D. And it’s a significant one. While Duke ranks second in ACC scoring defense, Carolina is last at 41 points per game. The Blue Devils will have more success moving the chains than in recent weeks, especially the backs. And their secondary will cause fits for Williams, when he drops back to throw. Duke ranks in the top 15 nationally in just about every major pass defense category, with CB Breon Borders and safeties Jeremy Cash and Devon Edwards blanketing opposing receivers.
Who To Watch Out For: This is Boone’s game to win or lose. He doesn’t have to out produce Williams, and he probably won’t. But he needs to perform better than he did in Duke two losses, in which he threw no touchdown passes and four picks. WR Jamison Crowder has got to be a bigger part of the offense, and it’s up to No. 7 to anticipate and deliver him catchable balls.
What’s Going To Happen: With no Coastal Division margin left, Duke will operate with an appropriate amount of urgency this week. Williams can be scary, but the Devils have the better rushing attack and defense, which is particularly important during a chilly night game. In a tight and competitive matchup, Duke will rise up on D to slow down the Heels, while unlocking Boone and the backs against a defense that hasn’t stopped anyone this fall.
Prediction: Duke 33 … North Carolina 28
Line: Duke -6 o/u: 66.5 Must Watch Factor: 5: HBO’s State of Play – 1: Euros of Hollywood … 2.5