The third week of the college football season begins with an ACC showdown between two undefeated teams as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons play host to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Kickoff is scheduled for Friday, September 13 at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Oddsmakers have made the Demon Deacons an early 3-point favorite at home with an over/under of 66 points. Be sure to check out all of the Week 3 college football odds.
As mentioned, both teams are undefeated, with North Carolina being one of the most surprising 2-0 teams in the country. The Tar Heels began the season with a come-from-behind win in their border-war game against South Carolina. They followed that up with a 28-25 win as a home underdog against Miami over the weekend.
Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill could not be going any better, especially for a program that won just five games over the past two seasons combined. Talk of UNC going to a bowl game has already started after two wins in games most would have predicted North Carolina would lose at the start of the season. The Tar Heels will face their first true road game this weekend, but if they survive, Brown’s team could be 4-0 and pushing for a top-25 spot when they host Clemson at the end of the month.
For Wake Forest, getting to 2-0 has been less surprising but no less difficult. The Demon Deacons were fortunate to survive a scare against Utah State in their home opener, needing a touchdown with 68 seconds left to grab a 38-35 win. Last week, the Demon Deacons had a slightly easier time with Rice, although it wasn’t until deep into the second half that they were able to put the Owls away.
Obviously, a 2-0 start puts Wake in a good position to reach their fourth straight bowl game under Dave Clawson. But the back half of their schedule is quite difficult, so the Demon Deacons need to rack up as many wins early in the year as possible. Before the season, Wake Forest probably saw this game as a win they needed to get to reach a bowl, so it’s vital they hold serve at home.
Despite being in-state rivals, Wake Forest and North Carolina haven’t played each other in four years. The last time they met was in 2015 when the Tar Heels won easily in Chapel Hill 50-14. Of course, that was the year UNC went undefeated in ACC play and won the Coastal division. Meanwhile, Wake finished the year 3-9 in Clawson’s second season. The Demon Deacons have come a long way since then while the Tar Heels have fallen off a cliff and are only starting to pick themselves back up.
I’m not yet ready to buy Wake Forest this season. This was expected to be a little bit of a rebuilding year for them, and that’s what I’ve seen after a pair of unconvincing wins over Group of Five programs. Meanwhile, North Carolina is already a battle-tested team with two wins against quality teams. With an extra three points, I have no problem leaning toward the Tar Heels, even on the road.
I’ll admit that Wake Forest has had no problem scoring points early in the season. Quarterback Jamie Newman has played great, averaging over 350 yards per game and tossing six touchdowns with no interceptions over two games. But I can’t put much stock in the Rice game. Also, the Demon Deacons were a little sluggish running the ball against a solid Utah State team in the opener.
With that in mind, I can’t help but think that the Wake Forest offense will come back down to earth when they face an ACC opponent for the first time. The Tar Heels have been far from dominant defensively this season, and the loss of starting cornerback Patrice Rene doesn’t help. But they’ve held South Carolina and Miami to a total of 45 points, which is no small feat. Remember, the onus is on Wake Forest to cover the spread. I think the Tar Heels will do enough to keep the Demon Deacons to a reasonable point total.
Of course, the biggest reason I like UNC in this game is the performance of true freshman quarterback Sam Howell. Few freshman quarterbacks have to face two Power Five conference teams to begin their career, and it’s been amazing to see him handle himself. He’s been efficient, completing 65% of his passes, as well as productive, averaging better than 10 yards per pass. Most importantly, he hasn’t thrown an interception against two quality defenses.
My only concern with North Carolina is that they didn’t run the ball effectively against Miami last week. But part of the reason for that is the Miami defense. UNC has experienced backs in Javonte Williams and Michael Carter who can get loose and create havoc when given the chance. Wake Forest was shredded on the ground two weeks ago against Utah State, and I think UNC could have similar success on the ground, taking more of the burden off their freshman quarterback.
To be honest, I was a little surprised to see Wake Forest favored in this game, even at home. I’ve seen enough from the Tar Heels over two games to drink the Kool-Aid. I think North Carolina is the better team and I think they’ll win Friday as road underdogs.