Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/North Carolina athletics
Notre Dame was brought into the ACC this year with high expectations. But not many expected the Fighting Irish to still be undefeated going into Thanksgiving weekend, especially since they battled Clemson earlier this month.
Nonetheless, we kick off the ACC slate in Week 12 with a match-up between two ranked teams. The 8-0 Fighting Irish, ranked second in the most recent AP Poll, clash with the 25th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
This game has major College Football Playoff implications. Presumably, Clemson and Notre Dame will meet once again in the ACC Championship game. The Irish need this win to ensure they have essentially clinched a spot before having to face Trevor Lawrence.
Meanwhile, North Carolina hopes to grab its signature win of the season. With a victory, UNC will prove that it can be a legitimate contender during Mack Brown’s second stint.
North Carolina Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
This is the ultimate battle of strengths for this match-up. North Carolina is stacked with weapons on offense. In addition to a dynamic receiving corps and a star sophomore quarterback in Sam Howell, the Tar Heels have a dominant running back duo with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is loaded with standout defenders. Most notably, Clark Lea’s group features lockdown safety Kyle Hamilton. Additionally, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has versatility and speed that draws comparisons to Isaiah Simmons.
The Tar Heels are averaging over 43 points per game, but Notre Dame is far better than any defense they have faced. The Irish are especially stout up front, but their cornerback play has been somewhat inconsistent this year. In order for UNC to maintain its offensive production, it must utilize the downfield passing attack and perhaps some stretch run concepts.
Notre Dame Offense vs. North Carolina Defense
If Notre Dame struggles defensively, it still has a significant advantage on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Ian Book has taken major strides in his development this year. Book has always taken care of the ball very well. However, aside from just one interception this year, the senior signal caller showed how electric and clutch he is throughout the Clemson game.
North Carolina’s defense was expected to make improvements this year in the secondary. The exact opposite ended up happening. Due to a combination of opt-outs, injuries, and under-performance, a group that was once praised for its depth now struggles to get enough capable players on the field.
With the receivers that Notre Dame has, the Irish should thrive in the passing game.
The Bottom Line
The Irish will dictate the course of this game. The Tar Heels are one-dimensional, so everything will depend on which version of Notre Dame we see. Regardless, Brian Kelly’s team has the upper hand. Friday’s contest begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and airs on ABC.
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, North Carolina 31
Other Games Across the ACC
NC State (6-3) at Syracuse (1-8), Saturday at 12 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Syracuse has all sorts of problems offensively and the defense has lost some key pieces. Expect NC State running backs Bam Knight and Ricky Person to have success all afternoon.
Prediction: NC State 28, Syracuse 10
Pittsburgh (5-4) at Clemson (7-1), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mediocre Pitt teams pulling off upsets of top-five programs is far from uncommon. However, Clemson will be extra motivated and will benefit from the return of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Pittsburgh 27
Louisville (3-6) at Boston College (5-4), Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
To the surprise of many, Boston College opens this game as a slight underdog. The Cardinals are a much better team than their record says. Considering the recent improvements defensively, it is very possible that Louisville wins this game.
Prediction: Louisville 27, Boston College 24
Duke (2-6) at Georgia Tech (2-5), Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (Regional Networks)
These two teams have put themselves in this spot for the same reason: turnovers. Georgia Tech gets the edge though, because of its more dynamic rushing attack.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 21, Duke 20
Virginia (4-4) at Florida State (2-6), Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
The Cavaliers’ defense took a huge hit with the injury to Charles Snowden last week. Nonetheless, the Hoos are plenty deep at linebacker. The exotic blitz packages the Cavaliers bring will keep the Florida State offense from ever establishing a rhythm.
Prediction: Virginia 35, Florida State 20