We enter the final half of the season with North Carolina in an unaccustomed position. With an 0-4 conference record, the Tar Heels are out of the Coastal Division race. In each of Larry Fedora’s previous five seasons in Chapel Hill, there was at least a sliver of hope that UNC could play for the league title at this point in the season. But not this year.
Virginia Tech, though, is a true contender. The Hokies are 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the ACC with the only loss coming to Clemson. All six remaining games are against Coastal teams; win those, and Virginia Tech will be playing in the ACC title game.
North Carolina at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Virginia Tech -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is UNC’s quarterback?
Brandon Harris was back at the helm for the Tar Heels last week against Virginia, and it did not go well. The graduate transfer from LSU was 7-of-18 for just 46 yards with three interceptions as the Tar Heels lost again. Neither UNC signal-caller has been outstanding this season, but redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt has clearly been the better of the two options. But despite Harris’s woes last Saturday, Surratt never entered the game. So the question remains: Who will be the Heels’ quarterback this week?
2. Josh Jackson and his receivers
Virginia Tech’s redshirt freshman quarterback is really coming into his own. Two weeks ago atBoston College, Jackson completed 22-of-33 for 322 yards and a score. Receiver Cam Phillips is the go-to guy, but he was dinged up against BC. He should be ready to go against UNC, but we’ll see how he moves. Sean Savoy led the way in Chestnut Hill with nine catches for 139 yards, but last week, the freshman received tragic news that his brother was killed in a shooting incident. Jackson will need other receivers to step up and shoulder some of the load should Phillips and Savoy not have their A games.
3. North Carolina running game
If there was one good thing that came out of the Virginia game, it was the emergence of running back Michael Carter. The freshman from Navarre, Florida, ran 13 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns to bolster what had been a stagnant rushing attack. The Hokies give up just 122 yards per game on the ground, so the yards will be more difficult to come by this week. But for the Tar Heels to remain competitive, Carter must have a repeat performance.
So let’s piece this together. North Carolina is decimated by injuries and has a 1-6 record. The Tar Heels have no idea who their starting quarterback is in week eight. They are going to one of the more hostile environments in the ACC to play a team that has its sights on a league title and had last week off. It doesn’t sound good for Carolina. And it’s not. It really doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback for North Carolina — Bud Foster’s defense will harass him into mistakes. North Carolina can’t stop the run, and Josh Jackson has developed into an accomplished thrower. Virginia Tech will win this game going away.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 10
— 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.