The Road to Charlotte: Game 8- North Carolina

NoleDigest looks at North Carolina in the latest installment of The Road to Charlotte.

Last season's game between Florida State and North Carolina was a tale of two halves. In the first have the Seminoles were blown out of the water, trailing a game 17-6 that really wasn't that close. The second half, though, may be the best FSU played the entire season as they completed the comeback to win 30-27.

The Tar Heels had the 3rd rated defense in the nation, and in the first half they showed why, putting a lot of pressure on Christian Ponder and the FSU offense. Trailing 24-6 early in the 3rd quarter the light came on for FSU and the offense. The comeback was stunning to those who watched the game. FSU avoided what would have been their 4th straight loss, accumulating 438 yards on offense. Simply, the offense dominated the highly rated UNC defense throughout the second half.

Christian Ponder had his best game to date as he completed 33 of 40 passes for 395 yards and 3 scores. The highly efficient Ponder completed all of his last 16 throws, with the game winning touchdown coming from Ponder to Beau Reliford with 6 minutes to play.

Arguably the play of the game came after a T.J. Yates threw an interception close to the FSU goal line. Pinned deep, FSU called a play-action pass. Ponder hit receiver Rod Owens on a 98 yard pass, getting the score to 24-20 and igniting the Seminole defense, a unit that turned it on from that point on shutting down Carolina's offense.

Last year's game is a reason why many FSU fans are were nervous coming into the season. The Tar Heels return 19 starters, 9 coming on a defense loaded with NFL players at every position. Just a month ago this game looked like a true challenge for FSU, but now that is up in the air.

UNC has had a terrible off-season. After stars Marvin Austin and Greg Little were mentioned as attendees to a party hosted by agents, the NCAA started investigating. Over the past week it got worse as academic infractions came to light. At this stage, it is entirely too early to say what team the Seminoles will be facing. Will UNC's stars be cleared, or will they go through the season playing guys that would have been 2nd and 3rd teamers?

OFFENSE: North Carolina's question mark is offense. Last year this unit really held back this team, preventing it from having the season they arguably should have had. 10 starters return led by quarterback T.J. Yates. Yates had 15 interceptions compared to 14 touchdown passes so first he'll need to protect the ball much better.

The two deep at running back for UNC is as talented as any in the ACC. Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston are tough runners. Houston led the team in 2009 with 713 yards and 9 scores.

If Greg Little can play this season he should have a huge season. If not, look for UNC to lean on Jheranie Boyd to be the big play threat. Boyd was second on the team with 5 receiving touchdowns, and word is he has had a productive summer and fall.

North Carolina is strong up front with 4 players returning that started last year. Keep an eye on freshman James Hurst. He is playing left tackle and is expected to start. Hurst was a 5-star recruit last year and he has all of the tools to be the starter from Day 1.

At this point it is too early to talk about the defense because frankly we have no clue as to who'll be playing. If all is well and the team is intact, the defense will more than likely be the NCAA's best.

What FSU must do to win: Repeat last year. FSU was able to create pressure on Yates and create turnovers when they needed. Christian Ponder played lights out, and he'll need to do that again this year. The offense rode some big plays to the win, and they'll need that this year if UNC's defense is dismantled by the NCAA investigations.

NoleDigest too early prediction: UNC's defense has received a lot of hype entering the season, but FSU picked them apart last year. FSU should be able to do the same this year; especially if the NCAA makes UNC keep out its stars (UNC has put the guys in question on the scout team at this time).

If UNC's team is as stacked as they could be, FSU has a tough game. If not, FSU should win this one by double digits.

FSU 30 UNC 20

Predicted Record: 8-1, 6-0 in ACC

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