The #10 North Carolina Tar Heels and Virginia Tech Hokies get together in an early Atlantic Coast Conference clash. Last year, North Carolina won the battle between the two squads, thumping the Hokies, 56-45.
Friday night’s kickoff is set for 6 p.m. EST inside the iconic Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA. According to oddsmakers, North Carolina is a 5.5-point favorite, and the total point over/under is 64.
What to Know – North Carolina Tar Heels
Head coach Mack Brown has brought UNC football into the national conversation and opens the season as a top-10 team for the first time since 1997. The Tar Heels are the preseason favorites to win the ACC Coastal division.
Junior quarterback Sam Howell returns for his third season under center and Heisman Trophy candidate. Howell threw for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2020, earning him All-ACC Second Team honors.
While Howell returns, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost many key pieces from last season’s team on offense, with the top two running backs and top two pass-catchers now on NFL rosters. Sophomore wide receiver Khafre Brown (15 receptions, 337 yards, 2 TDs) averaged 22.5 yards per catch and is expected to be one of Howell’s top targets.
Tennessee transfer running back Ty Chandler steps into the lead role in the backfield alongside Howell. Chandler spent four seasons in Knoxville, rushing for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, North Carolina surrendered 401 yards and 29 points per game in 2020. Just about everyone returns on the unit that should be more consistent this season. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel was second on the team with 78 tackles last year.
What to Know – Virginia Tech Hokies
The Virginia Tech Hokies enter the sixth season under head coach Justin Fuente and aim to improve off last season’s 5-6 record. 2020 was the first time the Hokies didn’t make a postseason bowl game under Fuente.
Junior quarterback Braxton Burmeister gets the nod under center for the VT. The Oregon transfer completed 48-of-84 passes for 687 yards and a pair of touchdowns while splitting time with now-departed Hendon Hooker.
Khalil Herbert has moved on to the NFL, so the Hokies will look to junior running back Jalen Holston to handle the duties. Holston was the fourth-leading rusher in 2020, carrying the ball 40 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hokies’ top two pass-catchers from last season are back, giving Burmeister a solid pair of targets. Sophomore wide receiver Tayvion Robinson led the team with 38 catches for 592 yards and three TDs, and junior Tre Turner added 34 receptions for 529 yards and three scores.
Historically known for a stout defense, the Hokies struggled on that side of the ball last year, allowing 448 yards and 32 points per game. Virginia Tech returns six starters on defense, so expect the unit to step forward in 2021.
The Pick is In
It is hard to imagine that this contest will be the offensive shootout it was last year. Both teams’ offenses will have a different look this season, with new faces stepping into starting roles.
Lane Stadium is a tough place to play for opponents, and the question marks on UNC’s offense are too big to ignore.
The Pick: Virginia Tech +5.5