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UNC Football vs. Notre Dame: X-Factor

Can the Tar Heels take advantage of their extra week to prepare for Notre Dame?

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Let’s put it out in the universe: the North Carolina Tar Heels can beat Notre Dame.

Even with the ups and downs through seven games, the oddsmakers only give the Irish a 3.5-point advantage. The computer-generated models in Bristol, CT favor Notre Dame a bit more with a 66 percent likelihood of victory.

The Fighting Irish deserve credit for their 6-1 record. The team has found ways to win throughout the season. Yet, a deeper dive into the games shows a team that could have a very different record if not for late game heroics.

In the season opener against Florida State, the Seminoles roared back from a 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. A missed field goal by FSU doomed them in overtime, and ND made the most of their opportunity. A clutch pick-six by Toledo to close the first half gave the Rockets a halftime lead. Two late touchdowns returned the lead to Toledo late in the fourth quarter, but some grit by Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan and his dislocated finger put the Irish ahead for a three-point win. Purdue had Notre Dame within four at the end of the third quarter, but the Irish eventually pulled out the 14-point win.

After dominating Wisconsin (Coan’s former team), Notre Dame had their only loss of the season against Cincinnati. The Bearcats came off a bye week and never trailed against the Irish. Their 17-point second quarter was enough to go the distance in their eventual 24-13 victory.

In their trip to Blacksburg, Notre Dame’s second half was back and forth. Facing an eight-point deficit with less than four minutes to play, the Irish dug deep. A touchdown and two-point conversion tied the game with 2:26 remaining. Their defense forced the Hokies to a three-and-out, and a methodical drive that led to a field goal with 17 seconds left sealed their three-point win.

In their 15-point victory last week over their West Coast rivals, the margin narrowed late in the fourth quarter. Consecutive touchdowns got Southern California to within eight of Notre Dame, but a late touchdown was too much for the Trojans to overcome.

All these recaps are to say two things:

  1. Notre Dame has put themselves in precarious situations, especially late in games.
  2. Carolina still has a lot of work to do to pull off the upset.

Carolina lost to two teams that Notre Dame beat. The transitive property of football victories does not favor UNC, but it is a good thing that will not matter Saturday night.

For the Carolina fans out there, here is the glimmer of hope: the only team to beat Notre Dame this season was coming off a bye week. This bye week and all the action in the program are this week’s X-Factor.

The bye week preparations were a common talking point in Mack Brown’s radio show and the coordinators press conference this week. Can these preparations turn into on-field results? The UNC faithful hope that the myriad of fixable issues received due attention during the off week.

For a morale boost, the Tar Heels are coming off an eventful week with the commitment of one of the highest rated prospects in program history. Can Carolina ride that momentum with a national telecast win against one of the most storied programs in college football history?

The transfer portal was active with three players opting to leave, but the lack of playing time was the motivating factor for these departures. One has to wonder if a crowded depth chart in the wrong places hurt the current squad.Could this be addition by subtraction for this 2021 team?

The Tar Heels still have a lot to play for this season. Bowl game eligibility is the first goal, and this game gets them one step closer. But so far in primetime in Mack Brown’s second stint, UNC has had ample primetime opportunities and fallen flat just about every time.

Will the most opportune bye week possible get the Tar Heels in a position for the big-time upset?