North Carolina hits the road for an important Week 1 clash against ACC Coastal rivals Virginia Tech in Blacksburg this weekend. Kickoff is slated for Friday at 6 pm (ET) at Lane Stadium.
Last meeting: North Carolina earned a 54-45 victory over Virginia Tech in 2020 as the teams combined for 1151 total yards of offense, with 659 yards coming on the ground.
Series: Virginia Tech leads the all-time series 24-13-6, including posting a 6-3 record in Blacksburg.
About North Carolina
North Carolina enters the 2020-21 season as the No. 10-ranked team in the nation, the Tar Heels' highest ranking in the AP preseason poll since 1997. UNC went 8-4 overall and 7-3 in ACC play last year, which was good enough for the Heels to earn an invite to the Orange Bowl -- marking their first appearance in a major bowl since 1949.
North Carolina returns 18 starters and 45 lettermen from last year. Junior quarterback Sam Howell (3,586 yards, 68.1 completion%, 30-7 TD/INT) leads an offense that put up over 41 points a game last season. Tennessee grad transfer Ty Chandler (456 yards, 4 TDs) leads a revamped Tar Heels attack. Beau Corrales (13 receptions for 238 yards, one TD), Garrett Walston (19 for 255 yards, two TDs), and Josh Downs (seven for 119 yards, three TDs) lead an exciting crop of receivers.
North Carolina will need its defense to be more consistent if the Heels plan on being a national championship contender. The Tar Heels return 10 starters on that side from a squad that gave up an average of 29.4 points and 400 yards of total yards.
Defensive lineman Ray Vohasek (29 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) is on the Nagurski and Outland Trophy Watch List. 2020 second-leading tackler Jeremiah Gemmel (78, 6.0, 2.5, one INT) and Tomari Fox (46, 6.0, 3.0) form a quality linebacking group, but North Carolina's secondary -- led by Tony Grimes, Kyler McMichael, and Trey Morrison -- has a chance to be special.
About Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech returns 19 starters (11 offense, eight defense) from last year's squad that went 5-6 overall and 5-5 in the ACC.
Junior dual-threat quarterback Braxton Burmeister, an elite athlete, went 3-1 as the Hokies' starter last year and will start under center. The Hokies, who have to replace 1,100-yard running back Khalil Herbert, have experience in the backfield with Jalen Holston (40-189, two TDs), Raheem Blackshear (68-225, two TDs) and Keshawn King. Blackshear is also a good receiver out of the backfield.
Speaking of receivers, Virginia Tech has several quality returning pass catchers, including Tayvion Robinson (38 catches for 592 yards, three TDs), WR Tre’ Turner (34 for 529, three TDs), TE James Mitchell (26 for 435, four TDs) and TE Nick Gallo (11 for 83, one TD).
Defense could be an issue for Virginia Tech, which allowed 32.1 points a game in 2020. Tech does return two of its top three tackles from last season -- CB Chamarri Conner (81 tackles, two INTs) and LB Alan Tisdale (59 tackles) -- and a solid secondary.
This is going to be a difficult game for North Carolina since the Tar Heels have to go into a hostile stadium for their first game, and they did have to replace lots of production from a year ago. However, Virginia Tech went 0-4 against teams ranked in the top 25 in 2020, getting outscored 164-114.
I like North Carolina to win and cover here in a high-scoring affair as the Tar Heels have more experience at quarterback and running back as well as a better defense. Howell has been terrific against the Hokies, throwing for 605 yards and eight touchdowns in two games.
While I think that there will be plenty of offense in the contest, I am not a fan of the 63.5 point total, so I'm going to pass on the over/under.
Pick: North Carolina (-5.5)