There have been a million words that have been used to describe the ACC Coastal Division this year. Crazy. Absurd. Bizarre. Mediocre. They all fit.
But the division is also fun. All seven teams have either two or three losses, which means that entering November, everyone in the division is still alive. There are two programs, though, currently atop the standings at 3-2, and they'll meet up this weekend when Virginia goes to North Carolina.
Virginia was considered the class of the division a few weeks ago, but the Cavaliers have lost two of their last three ACC games and have come back to the pack. Meanwhile, fun can’t begin to describe Mack Brown’s Tar Heels, as seven of their eight games have been decided by six points or fewer.
This rivalry has been played 123 times, and depending on whose record book you look at, UNC leads either 63-56-4 or 62-57-4.
Virginia at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: North Carolina -2.5
When Virginia Has the Ball
The health of Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins is a huge factor entering this game. The star senior hurt his knee and came out of the Louisville game for a brief time. He will play this week, but how effective he will be out there remains to be seen. Such a big part of Perkins' game is his ability to run with the ball, and if he is limited, it could really hamper the UVA offense.
Beyond the health of Perkins, eliminating mistakes will be a primary focus for Bronco Mendenhall and the Virginia staff. In the Cavs’ three losses, they have turned the ball over eight times. Interestingly, Perkins has been a big part of the problem. He has thrown eight interceptions on the year, and his three fumbles were game-changers in the loss to Notre Dame. Also, while Wayne Taulapapa has nine rushing touchdowns, running the ball has been a big problem as the Cavaliers have rushed for fewer than 80 yards in four of their last five games.
The Carolina defense has turned up the heat in recent weeks and is starting to force turnovers. Duke gave the ball to Carolina three times last week, and Virginia Tech fumbled twice the week before. Getting defenders into the backfield has played a big part in their success. The Heels, who had five sacks versus Duke, are being led by linebacker Chazz Surratt. The converted quarterback is second in the ACC with 75 tackles and has five sacks and 8.5 tackles for lost yardage.
When North Carolina Has the Ball
Freshman quarterback Sam Howell had his worst game as a Tar Heel against Duke, completing just 10-of-26 passes with two interceptions. But the balance that Carolina has shown all year was beneficial, as the Heels were able to lean on the running game. The trio of Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and Antonio Williams combined for 225 yards.
The Virginia defense is rugged, but the Cavs have had two rough games in terms of rush defense. One of those was last week, when Louisville ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns. So North Carolina will try to keep its ground game moving, though the Heels know that the running backs cannot do it alone against this Virginia defense.
Howell is going to have to play better, no doubt. But there were some passing game positives in the Duke game. Though his completion percentage was low, Howell's 10 completions resulted in 227 yards. Receivers Dazz Newsome, Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales can give any secondary headaches, and they will be the best receiving group Virginia has seen since losing star corner Bryce Hall for the season with an ankle injury.
Carolina is 2-1 at home in ACC games, with the only loss coming by one point to Clemson. Virginia is 1-2 in ACC road games and 1-3 overall away from Charlottesville. The Heels have been pressing the issue on defense recently, and Virginia has been turning the ball over, especially on the road. The Cavs can’t run, and Bryce Perkins is banged up. In a game that will determine who has a leg up in the race for the Coastal crown, take the home team, as North Carolina wins in another one-score game.
Prediction: North Carolina 24, Virginia 21
— 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.