Whenever North Carolina plays Duke, there is great meaning in the outcome. For Carolina, the importance lies solely in the pride of beating their hated rival and claiming the Victory Bell for the coming year. At 1-7, postseason possibilities have been extinguished.
With their win in the slop at Miami this past Saturday, Duke secured bowl eligibility for the sixth time in seven years. The Devils are 2-3 in the ACC — and with a game next week against No. 2 Clemson looming — a division title is out of the question, but a victory over UNC could push them up the ladder on the ACC bowl hierarchy.
This will be the 105th meeting of the Triangle neighbors and depending on which school you ask, North Carolina has won either 59 or 58 of those meetings.
North Carolina at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 12:20 p.m. ET
TV: Raycom Sports Network
Spread: Duke -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Blocking the Duke linebackers
Joe Giles-Harris is the star, but the return of fellow linebacker Ben Humphreys was huge for the Blue Devils in Miami. The senior from Newport Beach, California, has been battling a knee injury but he recorded six tackles and recovered two fumbles, one of which he forced, against the Hurricanes. Giles-Harris was hardly a slouch, with 12 total tackles, half a sack, and an additional tackle for lost yardage. Miami made some plays in the running game early on when the Duke stars were blocked. But for most of the game, Giles-Harris and Humphreys were doing damage, something Carolina wants to limit.
2. North Carolina's defensive front
The rush defense was a problem once again for the Tar Heels, though a lot of teams struggle stopping the Georgia Tech option. Still, that aspect of the game has been an ongoing issue with the Carolina defense. UNC linebacker Cole Holcomb, who had 22 tackles versus Georgia Tech, has to lead the way as the Heels try to slow down Duke running back Deon Jackson, who has 275 yards in his last two games. Rushing the passer hasn’t been as big of a problem, but UNC must be wary of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones scampering out of the pocket.
3. Duke’s receiving options
If Jones has time to throw, he could make North Carolina pay by getting the ball out on time to his talented group of pass catchers. T.J. Rahming and Jonathan Lloyd have combined for 81 receptions and tight end Daniel Helm asserted himself with four grabs — including a touchdown catch — against the Hurricanes. Considering Carolina’s inability to stop the run, any passing effectiveness by Duke would be problematic for the Heels.
North Carolina will be motivated for this game simply because Duke is on the other sideline. But Duke will be ready as well and has much more to play for at this point. Beyond the attitude of both teams, Duke is just a better football team. The Blue Devils are balanced offensively, they have active defensive linemen, and an outstanding linebacking corps. North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott will make some plays but he’ll also make some mistakes. David Cutcliffe’s team will improve to 7-3 and Duke will earn bragging rights, at least until Feb. 20, when the hoops Heels come to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Prediction: Duke 27, North Carolina 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.