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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Florida State Seminoles Preview and Prediction

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

Two high-scoring offenses and two struggling defenses will square off at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday as ACC hopeful North Carolina looks to end the nation’s longest home winning streak against No. 12 Florida State.

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The Seminoles were able to bounce back from their worst loss under head coach Jimbo Fisher with a 55-35 throttling of South Florida last week at Raymond James Stadium. North Carolina is coming off an emotional win, rallying from 13 points down with under six minutes to play to defeat Pittsburgh 37-36 in a key Coastal division matchup.

Both FSU and North Carolina are averaging more than 40 points per contest. Unfortunately for the two schools, neither team ranks in the top 85 in the FBS when it comes to total defense. This one should be a shootout.

North Carolina is the only ACC team that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, now in his seventh year, has yet to defeat. The Seminoles fell to the Tar Heels 37-35 in Tallahassee in the only meeting under Fisher in 2010 — his first season as head coach. Duplicating that feat on Saturday would mark the highest-ranked team North Carolina has defeated under head coach Larry Fedora, who is now in his fifth season with the Tar Heels.

North Carolina at Florida State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Florida State –10

Three Things to Watch

1. Dalvin Cook vs. North Carolina's Rush Defense

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North Carolina hasn’t looked good on defense this season, but the Tar Heels have been worst when it comes to stopping the run. North Carolina ranks 118th out of 128 FBS teams, and only Illinois has rushed for fewer than 200 yards against coordinator Gene Chizik’s defense. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones is a load in the middle, but the rest of the front seven is very young.

This week, the Tar Heels will be facing an FSU attack coming off one of the best rushing games in school history. In last week’s victory over South Florida, the Seminoles racked up 478 yards on the ground, thanks mostly to junior Dalvin Cook, who went for a career-high 267 yards rushing and 329 yards from scrimmage. Sophomore Jacques Patrick also eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark last week for FSU. North Carolina has a solid secondary that includes M.J. Stewart, Donnie Miles and Des Lawrence. If it wants to come into Tallahassee and leave with a win, it must force redshirt freshman Deondre Francois to win the game with his arm.

2. Mitch Trubisky vs. the FSU Secondary

What was supposed to be a major strength for Florida State this season — the secondary — has been anything but so far. While it is worth noting that the Seminoles have been without star sophomore safety Derwin James the last two weeks, FSU has blown a number of coverages this season, with many resulting in big plays for opposing teams. With veterans Nate Andrews, Marquez White and youngsters like Marcus Lewis and Tarvarus McFadden, there is no lack of talent, but the unit has failed to mesh.

That unit will be taking on a quarterback who, outside of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, may be the hottest in the country. After a less than stellar effort against Georgia to open the year, junior Mitch Trubisky has been unbelievable over his last three games. In wins over Illinois, James Madison and Pittsburgh, Trubisky is completing better than 80 percent of his passes for 1,150 combined yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. If the Seminoles can’t solve their woes in the defensive backfield, Saturday could be a long day.

3. Turnovers

It’s almost a cliché to talk about how important the turnover battle is in football, but it could play a big role on Saturday. While Florida State hasn’t been good on defense this season, it has been opportunistic with a plus-six turnover margin through four games. Seven of those have come on interceptions, with McFadden leading the ACC and the country with three early on.

Through four games, Trubisky has yet to throw a pick. In general, North Carolina has taken very good care of the football, with only three total turnovers. The Tar Heels, however, have just three takeaways and no interceptions. Although it’s key in any game, winning the turnover battle will be especially important on Saturday.

Final Analysis

Through four games in 2016, North Carolina and Florida State have been very similar: good on offense and not so much on defense. Both Trubisky and Francois have come into their own as first-year starters, thanks largely to a talented and versatile corps of skill players around them. Coming into Doak Campbell Stadium and leaving with a victory won’t be easy, but the Tar Heels have matchups they can exploit against the FSU defense. While the game will feature two teams ranked in the Amway Coaches Poll, it’s a much bigger contest for Florida State, who virtually has to win to keep its ACC title hopes alive. Though it would be a big win to get, North Carolina will still control its own destiny in the ACC Coastal division regardless of the outcome Saturday.

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Prediction: Florida State 45, North Carolina 37

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.