Here's The Deal … After three straight eight-win seasons, North Carolina has a rather predictable goal down the stretch—win a ninth game for the first time in 14 years. The Tar Heels took a giant step in that direction a week ago, whipping Wake Forest, 49-24, in a matchup that reeked of a possible landmine game. It was a dominating—and much-needed—all-around effort from a team that had hit rock-bottom in consecutive losses to Miami and Clemson in the previous two games. The Heels will look to build on last Saturday against a longtime rival, NC State.
The Wolfpack enters Week 10 with a very different mindset, looking to shake off last week's 34-0 pounding at the hands of Florida State. The Pack had been playing markedly better prior to walking into a garnet and gold buzzsaw in Tallahassee. While Carolina has controlled this series over the better part of the past century, NC State has won the last four meetings, raising the ante a bit for this one.
Why North Carolina Might Win: The balance of the Tar Heels offense, which has produced 87 points over the past two games, figures to be too much for an opportunistic, yet beatable, NC State defense.
As the season has unfolded, the backfield tandem of QB Bryn Renner and RB Giovani Bernard has evolved into one of the ACC's best. Bernard, a redshirt freshman, has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the last seven games to move to within the lip of the 1,000-yard cup. Renner is coming off his sharpest game behind center, finishing 21-of-28 for 338 yards, three scores and no picks.
Carolina has the offensive options that the Wolfpack has been unable to secure this fall.
Why NC State Might Win: If there's a dent in Carolina's defensive armor, it's clearly the secondary, especially now that starting S Matt Merletti is out for the year with an ACL tear. The Heels were outstanding in pass defense a week ago, but that kind of an effort versus Wake Forest has been more of the exception than the rule.
The Pack will counter with QB Mike Glennon and a passing attack that's determined to get back on the rails. The junior has been inconsistent, but clearly has the physical tools to snap off a three-touchdown game at a moment's notice. WR T.J. Graham is a particularly dangerous target in the passing game and on special teams.
Led by pilfering CB David Amerson, who has eight picks, NC State has more takeaways than any other ACC team.
What To Watch Out For: Can the suspect Wolfpack offensive line withstand the pressure of the North Carolina pass rushers? NC State has LB Audie Cole, but the Tar Heels have a much deeper collection of defenders along the front seven. From ends Kareem Martin and Quinton Coples to linebackers Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick, Carolina is loaded with the kinds of playmakers who can collapse the pocket on a consistent basis. If Glennon is forced to make connections on the move, at least two of his passes will wind up in a white jersey.
What Will Happen: Carolina and NC State will wage a competitive battle befitting of two heated rivals. Neither team will get much separation, with the outcome remaining in doubt throughout all four quarters. The difference will be provided by Bernard, the one player in this game most likely to extend drives in the latter stages of an edge-of-your-seat tussle. His running and the deft passing of Renner will carry the Heels to a win in front of a deflated Carter-Finley crowd.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 34 … NC State 28