It's a good thing bragging rights are on the line for Saturday's matchup in Raleigh between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and visiting North Carolina Tar Heels. Without that, there'd be little reason for this game to draw much interest even from fans of both schools.
Calm down, Heels and 'Pack. Yes, I know that both of your teams are still in the running for a bowl appearance, the winner of this early afternoon clash at Carter-Finley Stadium certainly keeping those hopes alive. But in reality, UNC and NC State are each having disappointing seasons to combine for only one ACC victory in eight conference tilts.
The Tar Heels have that lone league triumph, and they opened as 3 point favorites to pull off their first road win of the season to keep the Wolfpack winless in ACC action. Most shops monitored by SBR's live college football odds have bumped that to UNC -3.5, and the early total settled at 57.
A UNC win would be the second straight for the Tar Heels in the series that dates to 1894. Last year's meeting in Chapel Hill was one for the ages as Carolina opened a 25-7 lead in the first quarter before NC State scored four unanswered touchdowns to sit 35-25 going into the fourth. The Tar Heels rallied for a 43-35 victory, a 74-yard punt return in the closing seconds providing the winning score. That halted a 5-year win and cover streak for the Wolfpack who have won their last three home tilts vs. UNC. Five of the last six overall, and the last five in Raleigh, have gone 'over,' something we'll come back to before revealing our college football picks.
Carolina Snaps 4-Game Skid With Win Against BC
Larry Fedora's second season in Chapel Hill has not gone as well as his first, though that was to be expected after the Heels lost a chunk of the offensive line, their top tailback and three starting linebackers. The subtractions on the stop unit have been particularly felt; North Carolina ranks in the bottom third of the nation against the run (203 ypg) and 88th in total defense (428 ypg).
The offense hasn't fared much better putting up only 25 points per contest (87th), but Bryn Renner and Company have done a decent job not putting the defense in a lot of short-field situations, turning it over only 10 times. The Heels bounced back from a tough loss to Miami two weeks ago, when they blew a 10-point lead in the final quarter, by posting a 34-10 triumph last Saturday vs. Boston College. Renner and backup QB Marquise Williams combined to complete 22-of-29 passes, three of them for scores, and while the defense still had some issues with BC's running game, UNC backers had an easy payoff laying 5.5 in the contest.
Fedora's offensive line has had trouble all season opening holes for AJ Blue or Roma Morris out of the backfield, and the win vs. Boston College also saw the big uglies struggle a bit in pass protection by letting the Eagles sack Renner four times. Carolina has to keep Renner upright as well as run block better if the Heels are going to get the outright win or cover this week.
Mitchell Knocks Rust Off In Loss To Seminoles
Coming away with a win Saturday is a must for NC State to make a serious push towards a fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Dave Doeren, a little more than halfway through his first season at the helm in Raleigh, brings his squad home from a rout at the hands of Florida State, a game in which the Seminoles busted out to a 35-0 lead in the opening quarter before Jimbo Fisher eased off the pedal much to the dismay of FSU backers who were laying 34.5.
The Wolfpack actually won the time of possession in the defeat, their third straight after opening 3-1. Shadrach Thornton rushed for a career-best 173 yards and two scores to help chew up a lot of the clock and keep the explosive 'Noles the field. The contest marked the return of senior QB Brandon Mitchell, missing since early in the season opener with a broken left foot. The big pivot tossed two interceptions in his return.
The safest bet for college football handicappers to make in UNC and NC State games this year has been the 'under' as 11 of 14 tilts between them failed to reach the scoreboard hurdle. I do like the low side of the total, but will make my free pick on the Wolfpack in an upset. Mitchell having a game under his belt running the offense gives me some confidence in backing the home team with our sports picks for this one.
My pick: NC State +3.5 at Bet365