Rivalry picks: North Carolina hosts Duke
Posted November 29, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Saturday's contest at Kenan Stadium has heavy stakes for in-state rivals Duke and North Carolina as the Coastal Division champion is still up for grabs.
If Duke wins, the Blue Devils will win the Coastal outright and secure a spot in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 7. If Carolina wins, the Tar Heels will earn a share of the division title for the second straight season with a 5-3 conference record.
Regardless of the outcome, Duke will finish no worse than a tie for the Coastal Division and the possibility exists for a five-way tie between Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech.
The No. 24 Blue Devils are 9-2 (5-2 ACC) on the season and North Carolina is 6-5 (4-3 ACC).
As in any rivalry, it is not about the record; it is about the pride and bragging rights that go along with beating the combatant with whom you share nothing more than bad blood.
The WRAL sports staff weighs in on Saturday's rivalry game offering their keys to the game and tell you who they think will win.
They have had many monumental battles on the court, but I can't think of a bigger meeting between Duke and Carolina played on grass, with that odd shaped pumpkin. Back in 1989 when Duke's win clinched a share of the ACC title, North Carolina won only one game that year. This year both teams are riding winning streaks into Kenan Stadium. Duke has reeled off 7 in a row while North Carolina has put together 5 consecutive wins after a 1-5 start.
Both teams are trying to sweeten their bowl spots but only Duke has a chance to reach the ACC Championship game. Duke has played on a pretty even keel for the last 5 games but North Carolina has risen its level of play. For that and with the game being in Chapel Hill, I'm picking the Tar Heels to reclaim the Victory Bell.
Pick: UNC 28 Duke 24
My opinion might be a bit skewed after watching Carolina put up 80 points in three quarters, albeit against Old Dominion. But, the bottom line is the Heels have made dramatic improvements on defense in the second half of the season - and they've found playmakers in Ryan Switzer and TJ Logan to go along with Quinshad Davis and Eric Ebron. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Duke win by the same score - I continue to be impressed with what David Cutcliffe has done with that program - but I'm taking Carolina by a touchdown in a relatively high-scoring game.
Pick: UNC 31 Duke 24
I've gone back and forth with this all week. There have been times when I thought UNC could win big. Then I swing back to the team on the seven game winning streak. Duke hasn't played its best lately and it still finds a way to win. I think that will happen on Saturday. The big key is getting off to a fast start. The Blue Devils can't spot the Tar Heels 14 points like they did at Wake Forest. I think Duke has the edge on coaching and will win a close one.
Pick: Duke by a touchdown
The two teams have combined to win 12-in-a-row, both are looking to increase their bowl game stock, and one is looking at an unfathomable trip to the ACC Title Game. Seeing as how it's a sold out venue, I've got to believe home field advantage factors greatly into this, and outside of a sleepwalking disaster against ECU, Carolina has played quite well at Kenan this season. The Heels' underclassmen have grown up quickly and they are a massive reason why this team is 6-5 after starting 1-5. Duke's story is a classic, and should they pull it off it's certainly one for the ages, however, Chapel Hill isn't exactly Hollywood.
Pick: UNC 31 Duke 17
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Combined, these two teams have won a dozen straight games. The Blue Devils haven't come up short since allowing Pitt to score 58 points at Wallace Wade more than two months ago, while the Tar Heels last fell to Miami on an October Thursday night.
Carolina has had to adjust on the fly, as injuries -- and to a certain extent -- poor play have forced several line up changes. Marquise Williams has proven to be more than an adequate replacement for injured starter Bryn Renner. In fact, you could argue that Williams is a better fit for Larry Fedora's style of offense and the results over the last few weeks backs that up.
As for the Blue Devils, they're on the precipice of doing the unthinkable -- winning an outright coastal division title.
Yes, in football.
When David Cutcliffe started at Duke the Devils had no semblance of a running game. Short passes compensated for the lack of ability to move the chains on the ground. Now, it's probably the strength of the Duke attack. With four players capable of carrying the ball, not to mention two quarterbacks both adept at running the zone read, the Devils have a dimension that hasn't been found since maybe the Robert Baldwin days.
Over the last month of this unprecedented winning streak, at least in the modern college football era, Duke hasn't necessarily played their best football. What they've done is played their best at the right times, rallying for wins over Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia and NC State.
Duke is also unbeaten on the road in ACC play, so being at Kenan Stadium is a non-issue for me. Something special is going on in Durham. There is a belief that they WILL win, as opposed to CAN win, and I'm banking on that trend continuing.
Pick: Duke 33 UNC 31 (on a late Ross Martin field goal)
The key domino in the ACC Coastal Division race resides in Chapel Hill. The only thing standing in Duke’s way is North Carolina. If the Blue Devils lose, it sets off a series of tiebreakers for a group of teams finishing 5-3 in conference play.
It’s incredibly difficult to get a read on this matchup. Duke has shown resiliency in their winning streak, overcoming inconsistent quarterback performances with game breaking fourth quarter plays. As good as the Blue Devils have been on defense, the offenses they faced either missed key players or simply lacked scoring efficiency.
Which is why North Carolina’s offense poses the biggest threat to Duke’s chances of playing for an ACC Championship in Charlotte. Quarterback Marquise Williams has found his rhythm after taking over full-time. He has dynamic receiving options with Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis. The Heels have also found consistency in running by committee.
This will be a close game decided by a field goal or winning the turnover margin.
Duke has been able to play very well on the road all year. That's due in part to their new found ability to run the ball on third down and in the red zone. I expect it to be a high scoring game with UNC's offense starting to take flight with Marquise Williams running the show.
Pick: Duke 38 UNC 34
UNC has been playing at a high level since the Miami game. Marquise Williams is running Larry Fedora's offense efficiently and the defense has stepped up the pass rush and made key plays. Eric Ebron is a match-up problem and should have a big day. But...
Duke has done that all season. And the Blue Devils defense, yes the defense, has been the reason why David Cutcliffe's team is 9-2. Duke's D has only allowed 31 points in the fourth quarter, that's for the season. There is balance on offense and -Jamison Crowder is as explosive a wide out there is in the ACC. Add the extra motivation of a win putting the Blue Devils in the ACC championship game.
Should be a great way for these rivals to end the season.
Pick: Duke 28 UNC 24
For the first time since the ECU game, I think there'll be a big lively crowd in Kenan Stadium. If so, I see the UNC players reacting positively. Plus, there'll be a lot of incentive to end Duke's dream.
But if the Devils can get an early lead and manage to come up with a defensive plan to consistently confuse Marquise Williams, Duke will win and maybe by 10 points. Williams will need to have a productive game from the first possession on. He can't get cute against Duke's secondary.
Pick: UNC 35 Duke 34
The two-quarterback system in Durham has been refined to an art and the Blue Devils have consistently shown the ability to run the ball. UNC's offense has been scoring at a pace under the guidance of Marquise Williams that has reinvigorated Tar Heel fans. There is no doubt that each offense is capable of winning this game.
Ryan Switzer and Jamison Crowder are two of the best return men in the ACC if not the country. A slight special teams edge goes to Duke in the kicking game with Ross Martin and Will Monday.
The game, in my opinion, will be decided by the defenses. Duke is deep in their secondary but they are young. A meltdown against Pittsburgh was countered by a dominating performance against Virginia Tech. The best thing for them is they are about as healthy as they have been all year in their front seven. UNC has also been all over the map with their performances with seemingly no explanation. Being able to play sideline-to-sideline with Duke's screen game while also staying true to the inside run game will be a challenge.
In front of what should be the largest crowd at Kenan Stadium all year, it is hard to see a team with everything to play for not come to play - even if the locker room is painted a different color.
Pick: Duke 34 UNC 22
North Carolina is riding a five game win streak, they are playing the best football of their season and they're at home for Senior Day. Not to mention it's the last game of the regular season. The Heels want this game. But of course so does Duke.
Duke is riding a seven game win streak and coming off a close win over Wake Forest. The Blue Devils have a chance to play for the ACC Championship title, to think these guys aren't pumped would be ludacrous. They won the match-up last year in Wallace Wade and they know what it will take to beat their cross-town rival.
But this is revenge for Carolina and this is on their turf. The key will be the play of quarterback Marquise Williams and they'll need freshman Ryan Switzer to continue his explosive play. Duke will be ready to pounce on any mistake and the Heels need to play the same way.
So which way will the scoreboard lean at the end of the game?
The Heels will continue to click and this one will go to the home team Saturday.
Pick: UNC 31 Duke 27
The Blue Devils have proven time and again this season that they know how to win games. They've overcome big deficits and closed out contests in the fourth quarter, and there is no reason to believe that will change Saturday against the surging Tar Heels. It will be close, and it certainly wouldn't surprise anyone if UNC wins, but I'll take David Cutcliffe and Co.
Pick: Duke 34 UNC 31