Why to watch: Sure, it's been an up-and-down kind of year in Chapel Hill, but Butch Davis' Carolina team certainly is resilient. After reaching rock bottom on Oct. 22 with a nationally-televised blown game versus Florida State, the Tar Heels have rallied for four consecutive wins, including making Virginia Tech and Miami their victims. Now with eight victories and a bowl game left to come, the program has a shot at 10 wins for the first time since Mack Brown was on the sidelines in 1997. NC State, on the other hand, couldn't be riding a more opposite spectrum. Since beating Pittsburgh on Sept. 26, the Wolfpack has slumped into irrelevancy with six losses in the last seven games. Beating the rival Tar Heels for a third straight season will have to qualify as a postseason moment this fall.
Why North Carolina might win: The defense is playing about as well as any in America these days. Not only are the Tar Heels the nation's fifth-ranked D, but it's creating a slew of turnovers and has actually scored four touchdowns in the last two games. State's one-dimensional offense just won't cut it on this day. Carolina will bring all kinds of pressure from the likes of DE Robert Quinn and LB Quan Sturdivant, which creates opportunities for CB Kendric Burney and S Deunta Williams to take errant passes back the other way. Russell Wilson is no longer a mistake-free passer, having thrown a pick in each of the last seven games.
Why NC State might win: Okay, so what happens if the Carolina D doesn't create its own points? The Tar Heel offense remains abysmal, ranking 113th nationally and getting no help from QB T.J. Yates and the passing game. In fact, Yates has thrown one touchdown pass in the last three weeks and is No. 12 in the league in passing efficiency. With little to worry about here, the battered Pack defense can take a deep breath and concentrate on stopping RB Ryan Houston. Tom O'Brien will stack the box with LB Audi Cole and S Clem Johnson, daring the Heels to beat the defense over the top. In a close, low-scoring rivalry game, you never know what might happen, especially on the road.
Who to watch: The NC State defense might actually be bad enough to make Carolina look potent for one weekend. Maybe. If the Heels want to spread the field a bit, it ought to look to get the ball in the hands of WR Erik Highsmith more often. A true freshman with substantial upside, he's gotten better as the season's progressed and has the 6-3 frame to create match up problems for the depleted Wolfpack secondary.
What will happen: The fact that Carolina needs the defense to generate points is a concern, but not so much that it won't get a measure of revenge for the last two losses to NC State. Even if the Heel D doesn't physically break the plane of the end zone, it'll shut down the Wolfpack and create a bunch of short-field opportunities for the offense. While Yates might not turn those into six points, PK Casey Barth will benefit with yet another four-field goal day.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 26 … NC State 17 ... Line: North Carolina -5
Must See Rating: (Charlie Brown Thanksgiving 5 … The Twilight Saga: New Moon 1) … 2