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Louisville Cardinals vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

M.J. Stewart

M.J. Stewart

The Purdue Boilermakers nearly pulled off a stunning upset over the Louisville Cardinals last Saturday, and now the North Carolina Tar Heels are going to be the next ones to take a shot at Lamar Jackson and Co.

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

Louisville had its fits and starts in the opener, but overall, the offense, under the direction of their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, found a way to get it done against the upstart Boilermakers, 35-28.

North Carolina is coming off a 35-30 loss at home to the Cal Golden Bears, but looks to have a bit of a better handle on its quarterback situation settled. Still, it's far off from where head coach Larry Fedora wants and needs it to be if the Tar Heels want to get their first win.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams, starting off in an 0-1 hole with their most taxing divisional tests looming down the line would be far from ideal. In other words, although neither team fired on all cylinders the first week, they'll need to Saturday to get where they want to go in 2017.

Louisville at North Carolina

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Louisville -9.5

Three Things to Watch

1. On point

One aspect of Lamar Jackson's game that was a question mark coming into the season was his passing accuracy. In his first two seasons at the helm, he completed less than 60 percent of his attempts. Against Purdue, though, the junior was spot on. He completed 30-of-46 passes, a rate of 65.2 percent, for 378 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That's exactly the type of marksmanship that Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino – and NFL scouts – are looking for. The Tar Heels did not exactly defend the pass that well against Cal, as Bears quarterback Ross Bowers hit on 24-of-38 passes for 363 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in his first collegiate start. UNC will have to improve in that respect to keep Jackson from going off for a huge game.

2. Chazz-fest

To begin the post-Mitch Trubisky era, the Tar Heels played two quarterbacks in the loss to Cal, starting Brandon Harris, but the graduate transfer from LSU threw two interceptions and gave way to redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt. Although Surratt did not exactly light things up, he outplayed Harris, completing 18-of-28 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also ran it in from the 1-yard line as time ran out, but that should barely register given the circumstances. Although Purdue moved the ball well at times against the Cardinals, Louisville's Chucky Williams, Stacy Thomas and TreSean Smith all had interceptions, and this will be a much tougher defense than the one the Heels faced the first week.

3. Security issues

Ball security and other mistakes were nightmarish for both teams in the first week. Louisville got off to an ominous start when it fumbled inside the Purdue 5-yard line on the Cardinals' first drive. For the game, Louisville lost three fumbles and committed 16 penalties for 110 yards. Those problems nearly cost the Cards the game. It wasn't much better on North Carolina’s end, as the Tar Heels turned it over three times with a lost fumble thrown on top of Harris' two picks. In addition, defensive tackle Jalen Dalton's roughing-the-passer penalty with the Heels up, 17-7, in the second quarter gave Cal new life. Neither team can afford mistakes like that and expect to win.

Final Analysis

Louisville still has the quarterback, coaching and overall talent to consider itself not just an ACC but College Football Playoff contender. However, the Cardinals looked to be the better yet more undisciplined team against Purdue, and more of those performances will relegate them to the type of season they had last year, where they ended up with four losses, including three in a row to end the campaign. North Carolina looks nowhere near the type of conference contender it has been in recent years, but has the requisite talent to pull off an upset here or there. This could be one of those times, but Lamar Jackson should be the difference when push comes to shove. You likely won't see a blowout, but the Cardinals are the better team and should take care of business in Chapel Hill before moving their attention to a huge home opener against Clemson the week after.

College football rankings: Louisville

Prediction: Louisville 38, North Carolina 24

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.