IT's North Carolina game picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Saturday's game between Texas and North Carolina.

IT's Picks:

Frisbie -- With all of Texas’ offensive firepower at the offensive skill positions, it’s striking that so much attention is now focused on the big meat-eaters up front. Coaches and players are insisting the offensive line has worked out the kinks, and that we should expect a vastly improved, focused and intense unit. (If not, we’re in trouble, folks). Like last year, this matchup should be close at halftime (it was a late second quarter, 14-14 deadlock in Austin until Nathan Vasher’s superlative special teams play gave the offense all the field position and momentum it needed in the heart-heavy 44-14 victory dedicated to Cole Pittman). This time around, the Tar Heels replace eight on defense, and only one of them (FS Dexter Reid) would start for Texas. Despite Reid’s athleticism, his most telling stat is that he leads the team with 35 tackles, and no one else comes close. Friends, when a free safety is your leading tackler, it means there’s been a lot of offensive wiggle-room between the line of scrimmage and the last-man-to-beat. That bodes well for one RB Cedric Benson, whose rushing stats should eclipse his season total by halftime. Carolina’s defense plays man-coverage and unexpectedly stacked the line of scrimmage against Syracuse. If that trend continues, SE Roy Williams should have a field day (but the feeling here is that the underrated and overlooked Tony Jeffery could make a statement). I don’t expect to see LDE Cory Redding somersaulting into the end zone (I would settle for the healthy return of RDE Kalen Thornton). But I do expect Texas to distance themselves from the ‘Heels by the middle of the third quarter, giving backup QB Chance Mock some quality snaps. Despite his scrambling ability and deep ball threat, Tar Heel QB Darian Durant is 1-3 as a starter. (We might get to see his backup, C.J. Stephens, as well) We’ll finally get to see Selvin Young on the Longhorn kick-off return team, only because the Heels will score on a quartet of Dan Orner 50-yard field goals, plus one WR Sam Aiken touchdown reception. Other than that, there will be too much Benson, too much Williams and, hopefully, too much offensive line production to keep Carolina blue and 0-for-Kenan Stadium this season. Texas 37, North Carolina 19.

Pearle -- There’s no question in my mind that North Carolina at Chapel Hill poses a major threat to Texas. The history of Mack Brown leaving the UNC program to come to Austin is well chronicled and won’t be repeated here, but suffice to say, the powder-blue people haven’t forgotten. The atmosphere Saturday night will be loud, raucous and hostile. To quote one of our colleagues at Inside Carolina, "expect perhaps the wildest atmosphere ever Among the Pines at Kenan Stadium." Of course, the fans don’t play, the players do, and Texas has got the players to beat the Tar Heels handily. Problem is, many of those Longhorn players didn’t exactly shine against lowly North Texas. The offense, particularly the line, must make dramatic improvement or the blitz-happy Tar Heel defense playing on emotional rocket fuel could slow Texas down enough to give Darian Durant and company a chance. The key is for the Horns to come out, handle the pre-game emotion, settle down, and get out of the first quarter without committing a turnover or allowing a big play. Give up cheap points early and the Heels begin to believe and the crowd stays in a frenzy. North Carolina is a weird team. They open with a loss to Miami, not the guys from the beach but the bunch from Ohio, then go to Syracuse and take out the Orangemen despite a woeful, turnover-laced performance at QB by Durant early. But coach John Bunting stuck with Durant who righted the ship and led the team to a win. Durant should enter the Texas game excited, confident, and secure in the knowledge that his coach believes in him. The rest of the Heels should follow his lead. One thing that encourages me about this game is the fact that Texas under Mack Brown has been a very good road team. It has won in extremely difficult environments such as Lincoln, Lubbock and College Station to name several. And Brown has always maintained that a football team improves the most between its first and second games. The Horns need to make a dramatic improvement over their game-one performance to win this one. I think they will, but I don’t think it’s gonna be easy. I see Texas finally outlasting UNC and winning one that will keep the blood pressure elevated ‘til the final tick of the clock. Make it Texas 30, UNC 20.

Ross -- Two years ago, Texas would have lost this game. Matter of fact, it did lose "this" game two years ago in Palo Alto vs. Stanford: a long road trip to a different time zone, following an easy opening win that nevertheless highlighted deficiencies in the running game, under the lights, against a team it had pummeled during the previous season. All those ingredients are again in place, along with the Mack Brown-ditched-us/lied-to-us motivation for Carolina (actually, that motivation probably only applies to the fans in the stands, who could be a factor, as Michael pointed out above, if the Horns allow the Heels to hang around on the scoreboard late into the game). Luckily, this is not the Texas team that dropped off the national radar in '00 following the loss to the Cardinal and the embarrassment three weeks later in the Cotton Bowl vs. OU. Since the debacle in Dallas in '00, the Horns have won 17 games and lost just three (all to top 10 opponents), managing gut check wins in Boulder, Lubbock, and College Station. North Carolina is a good football team. It has extremely talented athletes at several positions, but it may not even equal North Texas, the Horns' opening game opponent, on the defensive line after having to replace NFL-bound studs Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims from last year's squad and now starting DT Eric Davis from this year's because of a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Teams that can stop the run and disrupt the Longhorn passing game with continued pressure from the front seven can beat Texas. North Carolina is not that team. Barring a meltdown of Big 12 Championship Game proportions, the Horns pull away in this one with a huge game from Chris Simms and a workman-like day, particularly in the second half, from Cedric Benson. Texas 34, North Carolina 13.

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