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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Miami Hurricanes Prediction and Preview

Miami Hurricanes QB N'Kosi Perry

Miami Hurricanes QB N'Kosi Perry

The Miami Hurricanes will begin ACC play on a short week on Thursday night as they will host the North Carolina Tar Heels on national TV.

Last week, the Hurricanes were able to beat the FIU Panthers 31-17. The Tar Heels got their first win of the season by defeating fellow Coastal Division foe Pitt in a 38-35 thriller in Chapel Hill. 

Thursday will be the 20th meeting all-time between North Carolina and Miami as the Hurricanes hold a slight 10-9 advantage in the series.

North Carolina at Miami

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Miami -18.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Hurricanes' starting quarterback

If Mark Richt knows who's going to start against the Tar Heels on Thursday, he certainly isn't telling the public. 

Malik Rosier has started all four games for the Hurricanes. But on the third series of last weekend's game against FIU, Richt put N'Kosi Perry in, which was the plan all along, and the redshirt freshman delivered.

Perry completed 17 of 25 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns as he helped lead the Hurricanes to a 31-17 victory. After starting the game, Rosier never got back in under center.

During Monday's practice leading up to the game, Perry received first-team reps, which probably doesn't bode well for Rosier on a short week.

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2. Nathan Elliott

Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora announced on Monday that Elliott would get the start against the Hurricanes on the short week even though Chazz Surratt was eligible to return after serving a suspension for selling school-issued Nikes earlier this year. While Surratt was expected to complete with Elliott for the starting job prior to the suspension, Elliott deserves another opportunity after his strong performance last week.

In the win over Pittsburgh, Elliott completed 22 of 31 of his passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. This week, Elliott will be tested against a tough Hurricanes defense.

Miami enter this game second in the country in total defense at 223.8 yards per game. While three of the Hurricanes' games have been against an FCS team (Savannah State), Toledo from the MAC, and last week's win over Conference USA member FIU, don't forget that they opened the season against LSU. The Tigers are currently ranked fifth in the AP poll. Miami also has done a good job of limiting opponents on the scoreboard, holding them to 18.5 points per game (29th). 

3. Gerald Willis III

In just four games, Willis has been a force at defensive tackle for the Hurricanes. He is tied for the national lead in tackles for a loss with 10 and he also has a pair of sacks to pace Miami's defense in the early going. 

After Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh left the program, there was a void up front. So far, Willis has been a pleasant surprise as he has anchored the Hurricanes' defensive line and arguably been their best player on that side of the ball. Miami enters this game first among ACC teams in total, rushing and passing defense. We'll see if these trends continue as the Hurricanes play their first conference game.

Final Analysis

Despite their win over Pittsburgh last week, North Carolina is still a team in transition. Sure, the offense was plenty productive last week with Nathan Elliott leading the way, but the defense still gave up 35 points and more than 400 yards. That probably will not get the job done against the Hurricanes, who are statistically superior to the Panthers on that side of the ball, especially in terms of yards and points per game.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Miami

N'Kosi Perry gave Miami's offense instant energy once he entered the game at quarterback and he will likely be under center when for the Hurricanes' first possession. If the Hurricanes can get wide receivers Jeff Thomas (left last week's game early due to dehydration) and Ahmmon Richards (missed game because of knee injury) back this week that will only help the redshirt freshman signal-caller. North Carolina simply doesn't have as many playmakers, on either side of the ball, as Miami. 

Prediction: Miami 41, North Carolina 20

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.