A pair of ACC teams looking to snap out of a losing skid will meet this weekend as the Syracuse Orange play host to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Kickoff is set for 12:20 EST on Saturday, October 20, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Fans can find the game on ACC Network Extra.
The Orange opened the week favored by 12 points. However, early betting in North Carolina’s favor has dropped Syracuse to a 10-point favorite at home. Make sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
A 4-0 start to the season is now a distant memory for the Orange. After starting 4-0, Syracuse nearly knocked off Clemson on the road but couldn’t quite get over the finish line. They followed up that loss with an overtime loss against Pittsburgh before getting last week off. Those two losses leave them 4-2 overall and just 1-2 in ACC play.
However, the Orange are still on pace to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Syracuse only needs two wins in their final six games to get there. However, that won’t be easy with undefeated teams N.C. State and Notre Dame left on their schedule. It’s vital that the Orange win this week and snap their losing streak at two games if they don’t want to be scrambling to find six wins at the end of November.
North Carolina is also trying to snap a two-game losing streak. Of course, the Tar Heels didn’t get off to a fast start this year, so they are sitting at 1-4 overall with their only win coming against Pittsburgh. To be fair, UNC has played a tough schedule, losing to the likes of Cal, Miami, and Virginia Tech, leaving some of their more winnable games for the second half of their schedule.
That being said, the Tar Heels need to win five of their last six games in order to reach a bowl. However, three of those games are on the road and one of North Carolina’s home dates is against N.C. State. With that schedule, this is a must-win game for the Tar Heels if they’re going to reach a bowl game.
This will be the first time these two schools are meeting since Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013. The last time they met in 2003, the Orange won a 49-47 thriller in Chapel Hill. In the four all-time games between Syracuse and North Carolina, the road team has won every game.
To be honest, there’s not much to like about North Carolina this season. However, Syracuse’s two straight losses and defensive inconsistency worry me a little. I think the Orange will find a way to win at home, but I’m not convinced it’ll be a comfortable win. I’ll lean toward the Tar Heels to beat the spread, even in a loss.
The one thing that makes me wary about leaning toward North Carolina is their quarterback situation. Nathan Elliott was benched last week in favor of freshman Cade Fortin. However, Fortin got hurt against Virginia Tech, forcing the Tar Heels to go back to Elliott, who is likely to start this week with Fortin still hurt.
Elliott has been inconsistent all season. He’s been decent at home but had a world of trouble on the road. In the season opener at Cal, he completed 15 of 35 passes while throwing four interceptions. In his last road game against Miami, Elliott managed just 104 passing yards. If Elliott gets the start, turnovers will be a big concern. In five games against FBS opponents this year, the Syracuse defense has forced 12 turnovers, even creating takeaways in the games they’ve lost. It could be more of the same if Elliot starts.
The silver lining for North Carolina is that they’d had great success running the ball this year. Even in their recent losses to Miami and Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels have racked up big yards on the ground with sophomore Michael Carter starting to get the bulk of the carries. Meanwhile, the Syracuse defense was shredded on the ground against both Clemson and Pittsburgh. The Orange gave up over 250 yards rushing to both teams. Had the Orange played better against the run, they probably would have won both games. Running the ball could be UNC’s path toward staying in this game.
Of course, the Tar Heels will still have to find a way to slow down the Syracuse offense. The Orange are averaging 43 points per game and 30 points per outing during ACC play. Syracuse will throw three different running backs at UNC, not including quarterback Eric Dungey, the team’s leading rusher. With Dungey also being a competent passer, the Orange can be tough to stop once they get going. The UNC defense held their own last time out against Virginia Tech. But that was one of the rare times this season the Tar Heels played well on that side of the ball.
In the end, I don’t trust the Syracuse run defense enough to pick the Orange to pull away and cover the spread. Without better quarterback play, the Tar Heels still have a narrow path to victory. But I think they’ll run the ball well enough to keep this game close. I’ll lean toward North Carolina to lose the game but beat the spread.