North Carolina vs Duke, 12:00 PM, ESPN2
In what constitutes a de facto ACC Semifinal game, UNC welcomes Duke to Chapel Hill with both teams looking for the inside track on winning the Coastal Division. On the basis of the bitter rivalry alone, this game carries a certain level of intensity. Now the stakes will include not just the Victory Bell but first place in the Coastal Division. For Duke there are other elements at play including the 41-20 drubbing of Duke in Durham last season and the fact the Blue Devils lost to Miami on a play the ACC now says was called incorrectly. Rivalry and winning the division is fuel enough but those other factors should make for a Blue Devil team in a take no prisoners mode.
The question is can the Tar Heels bring the same kind of intensity and live up to the role as a team favored to win the division. Being at 7-1 and 4-0 in the ACC is uncharted waters in the Larry Fedora era. The Tar Heels passed the first test last week against Pittsburgh getting a key win on the road against a good team. Now UNC faces a tough Duke team coming off a difficult loss in a rivalry game. UNC's highly experienced team can make yet another statement it truly belongs in the Top 25.
To get there the Tar Heels need to play a complete game. UNC hasn't really done this much this season with the notable exception being against Illinois. The first half against Pittsburgh offered a fast start, something UNC has been missing as the Tar Heels staked an early lead. However the second half the offense sputtered and the defense needed to step up to ultimately preserve the win. A complete effort from both units with some special teams magic out of Ryan Switzer will be key to keeping the winning streak alive.
With the caliber of Duke's defense, playing a clean game will be an necessity. It may end up being difficult enough to move the football, giving possessions away could put the Tar Heels in a hole. UNC getting ahead early would put tremendous pressure on the Duke offense to produce and do so through the air. The Blue Devils have the ability to run the ball and Thomas Sirk as a dual threat quarterback presents UNC with new challenge. The ability of the Tar Heel defense to stop the run continues to be a question mark and facing a dual threat quarterback it could prove to be detrimental.
UNC football history has taught us moments like this are rare but as Larry Fedora has noted, the focus on the team hasn't been on what UNC has done in the past but what can be accomplished this season. So far UNC has met the challenges, this is simply one more hurdle to clear.
UNC 35 Duke 24