North Carolina at NC State, 3:30 PM, ABC
UNC enters this game with a dilemma of sorts. The division is wrapped up and Clemson awaits next weekend in the ACC Championship game so in that context there is nothing left to play for. Regardless of what happens in Raleigh on Saturday, UNC still gets a shot at winning its first ACC title since 1980. Then again, this is a rivalry game against a team that humiliated the Tar Heels last year at home and forced Marquise Williams into one of the worst games of his career. The memory of that is undoubtedly at the forefront in the minds of coaches and players for this meeting.
Whatever motivation you want to cite, the key one might very well be this UNC team is playing with a "we want it all mentality." Forget the CFP rankings, though that certainly plays a remote role here. Once the season turned with the win at Georgia Tech, UNC has played like a team intent on taking every win it can. On the road at Pittsburgh, the Tar Heels stepped up to control the game early. That was followed by the use of nuclear weapons on Duke and Miami in successive weeks. Either one of those games presented the possibility of letdown but instead the Tar Heels crushed the opposition in cold blooded fashion. Last week at Virginia Tech was a much tougher game and one UNC did a fair amount of abuse to its own collective foot but the moxie showed to pull the division clincher out of the fire in overtime is a perfect illustration of this team's mettle.
As much as last year's 35-7 loss to NC State lingers, it should be noted this Tar Heel team is obviously very different. Marquise Williams spent the better part of the game running for his life before an injury knocked him out of the game. The Tar Heel offensive line is much improved over last season and though NC State sports a tough front four on defense. This will make protecting Williams a taller task and could impair the run game however providing the Tar Heels can do both of those sufficiently, the array of receiving weapons can exploit the Wolfpack secondary.
On the other side of the ball, UNC's defense has spent all season redeeming awful performances from last season. This will be no different though the Tar Heel run defense has been the weakest part of Gene Chizik's reclamation project. The Wolfpack started the season with a deep and strong rushing attack but the dismissal of Shadrach Thornton and an injury to Austin Dayes has dented that part of the offensive attack. UNC will be at its best if it can limit the run and force Jacoby Brissett to work against the Tar Heel secondary which has been more than adequate.
Rivalry games are full of moments which can't be accounted for such as weird turnovers. UNC went three games without committing a miscue before three fumbles last week. Returning to turnover free football in this game would certainly give the Tar Heels an edge, especially if UNC can add to its season total of 23 turnovers.
UNC 35 NC State 24.