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The no. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish can take one big step forward the ACC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff when they take on the no. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday afternoon. On the road, the Fighting Irish is a 4.5-point favorite.
In their first season playing in a conference, the Fighting Irish sit alone atop the ACC standings. By virtue of their win over Clemson, Notre Dame could all but lock up a spot in the ACC Championship Game with a win over UNC.
However, Brian Kelly’s team wants to leave nothing to chance. The longer the 8-0 Irish can stay undefeated, the better their chances will be of making the CFP.
Meanwhile, this is likely North Carolina’s last stand with regard to a spot in the ACC title game. The Tar Heels began the season believing they were legitimate contenders, but disappointing losses to Florida State and Virginia have derailed those hopes. As it stands, the Tar Heels need to win their remaining games and get a little help if they want to play in the ACC Championship Game.
Sam I Am
Even in their two losses this season, the UNC offense has not been a problem. Quarterback Sam Howell leads one of the most balanced and dynamic attacks in the country.
The Tar Heels are averaging 48 points over their last six games, scoring at least 40 points in all but one of those games. Howell is averaging more than 10 yards per pass attempt thanks to the big-play ability of Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Meanwhile, running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams are both averaging over 100 rushing yards per game.
However, the Tar Heels haven’t faced a defense like the Notre Dame defense this season. To be fair, the Irish have conceded a total of 71 points over their last two games against Clemson and Boston College. But they are still giving up less than 17 points per game on the season.
Even in recent games when they gave up a lot of points, the Irish has stuffed the run. Keep in mind that Clemson’s Travis Etienne had just 28 yards on 18 carries against Notre Dame. They force opposing offenses to become one-dimensional better than any other team in the country.
By the Book
While the Notre Dame defense has had some trouble in recent weeks, the Fighting Irish are getting better offensively. Running back Kyren Williams has been productive all season. But it’s only in recent weeks that Javon McKinley and Avery Davis have given the Notre Dame offense downfield passing threats.
As a result, Ian Book has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games. Now that Book has some legitimate threats around him, the Irish are becoming a more balanced and dangerous offensive team.
That could be a problem for a porous UNC defense. The Tar Heels have allowed a minimum of 21 points in all but one game this season.
They’ve also conceded over 40 points on three occasions, including their most recent game against Wake Forest, who scored 53 points against the Tar Heels. That’s a troubling trend heading into a matchup with a Notre Dame offense that has improved every week.
Can’t Keep Up
The North Carolina offense should be able to make this game interesting. However, the Tar Heels have gone cold at times this year. More importantly, the UNC defense may not provide much resistance against the balanced Notre Dame offense. Bet on the Fighting Irish to win and cover against North Carolina.