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James Madison Dukes vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

T.J. Logan

T.J. Logan

For North Carolina, it’s home sweet home. Finally.

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After opening the season against Georgia in Atlanta and then heading to Champaign, Illinois, to face the Fighting Illini, the Tar Heels will kickoff their home schedule with James Madison this Saturday. UNC is now 1-1 after downing the Illini 48-23.

James Madison comes in at 2-0 and is currently ranked No. 8 in the FCS Coaches Poll. The Dukes have routed their two overmatched opponents by a combined score of 136-28. JMU is no stranger to FBS competition, having pulled a big upset of Virginia Tech in 2010 and beating SMU in Dallas last year.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Tar Heels and the Dukes.

James Madison at North Carolina

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: WatchESPN/ACC-RSN

Spread:  N/A

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Three Things to Watch

1. Mitch Trubisky’s Progress

The redshirt junior didn’t have the greatest start to the season as he struggled to make big plays against Georgia, but the UNC quarterback cleaned things up considerably in week two. Trubisky was a very efficient 19-of-24 for 265 yards and two touchdown passes versus Illinois. He also showed some mobility, running for 42 yards and a couple of first quarter touchdowns. Head coach Larry Fedora would like to see Trubisky’s development continue against JMU this week.

2. What More Can T.J. Logan Do?

The senior from Greensboro was sensational for the second week in a row. He averaged six yards per carry, had a 24-yard touchdown reception, and his big 58-yard kickoff return switched momentum after Illinois had taken a 14-7 lead. Prior to Elijah Hood’s late 62-yard touchdown run, Logan was the more dangerous threat in the running game and through two weeks he has 414 all-purpose yards and totaled three touchdowns.

3. North Carolina Run Defense

There were signs of improvement for the troubled Heels' run defense. Illinois did have 182 yards on the ground, but 65 of those came on one play just 1:25 into the game. After that, Nazair Jones was disruptive up front and linebacker Andre Smith was all over the field, limiting the Illini's rushing attack. It did help that Illinois constantly put itself in long-yardage situations with penalties and that UNC got up by a couple of scores. But it was still a positive step for Gene Chizik’s unit. JMU has rushed for 810 yards in its first two games, so this will again be an area of focus for the UNC defenders.

Final Analysis

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James Madison is not your run-of-the-mill FCS program. The Dukes came into the year at No. 14 in Athlon Sports' FCS rankings and after two decisive victories their sights are set on a run at the national title. But the two teams that JMU has devoured this year are weaker FCS programs and North Carolina is not just a big step up in competition, it’s a trampoline bounce. North Carolina has to be worried about a letdown coming off of games against two Power Five schools and with Pittsburgh trekking to Kenan Memorial Stadium next week. That could allow James Madison to hang around a bit, but the Tar Heels will eventually open the gap and enjoy a comfortable win.

Prediction: North Carolina 38, James Madison 17

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.