Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Kenan Stadium (60,000 grass)
Records: Duke (3-6, 1-6 ACC); UNC (2-9, 1-6 ACC)
Series: UNC leads 51-34-4
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
Coaches: Duke – Ted Roof, interim coach, 1-3-0, .200; UNC – John Bunting, 3rd season, 13-23-0 .361
Last Meeting: UNC 23, Duke 21 on Nov. 23, 2002, Durham, N.C.
Line: UNC by 6
Here we go again. North Carolina finds itself exactly where it was this time last year, needing a season-ending win over Duke to avoid finishing as the league's doormat, and eschew its first 10-loss campaign since 1990.
The Tar Heels have not had the pleasure of bullying too many teams in recent years. However despite an absence of stability since Mack Brown left town, Carolina has been able to continue to dominate Duke. UNC will need to make is 14 straight over the Blue Devils in order to hold onto the coveted "Victory Bell," a large bell on wheels that originated in the 1940s by UNC cheerleader Norman Spear.
The contest will also serve as the final appearance for 21 of Carolina's seniors, who will be honored prior to kickoff. Since the ACC began in 1953, Carolina has closed the season with Duke in 42 of the last 51 years.
Darian Durant is the Tar Heels' career passing leader with 6,314 yards and counting. He has led UNC to its best offensive season since 1994 – averaging 403.9 yards of total offense, with 247.6 yards per game passing. Duke's Matt Schneider has just four touchdown passes on the season.
Ronnie McGill and Jacque Lewis are the featured backs now, with Willie Parker's role reduced and Chad Scott out with a neck sprain. Chris Douglas is Duke's all-time leading rusher with 3,003 career yards and is currently ranked second in the ACC averaging 92.6 yards per game. While UNC's running attack is at least as good as the Blue Devils,' Carolina's defensive line has a propensity for making its opponents' running attack look great.
Along with Jawarski Pollock's six receptions per game, freshmen Mike Mason and Adarius Bowman each have two touchdown receptions, and Derrele Mitchell has 16 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. And that's not all, Brandon Russell, Jesse Holley and tight end Bobby Blizzard, provide a wealth of options for Durant. Reggie Love leads a Blue Devils' group of wideouts and tight ends that can go as deep as the Tar Heels. However, Carolina's talent runs much richer down the depth chart.
Guard Jeb Terry has not allowed a sack all season and consistently grades out as the Tar Heels' leading lineman, and for those reasons and others he is a legitimate All-ACC candidate. Carolina leads the ACC with 4.7 yards per rush, thanks largely to the play up front. Duke's starters are made up of juniors and seniors and average 313 pounds per person. Douglas doesn't get his yards without a quality unit to run behind.
There will be no secret to Duke's game plan – run Douglas at a UNC defense that has been unable to stop opposing rushers with any consistency all year. Ball control – it's the one area where a team outmatched in many other aspects can take over a game. Against the Tigers, linebacker Ryan Fowler had 20 tackles.
The Tar Heels have intercepted just two passes in 2003, while the Blue Devils defense has intercepted three in a game twice this season. Before breaking down in a 40-7 loss at Clemson last week, the Duke defense forced four turnovers in the win over Georgia Tech. Carolina's defensive backfield has fallen victim to the long ball in nearly every game, so there is no reason to believe Schneider will not take a few shots downfield as well.
While UNC's numbers are good in this category, its coverage teams have given up big returns at some of the most crucial moments in the game. Michael Waddell and Mike Mason are not only two of the league's most dangerous return men, but both have figured big in other ways such as blocking kicks and making big tackles. A Dan Orner field goal was the difference is last year's contest, it could happen again.
Prediction: UNC 38, Duke 31