No. 2 Notre Dame hits the road for a Friday kickoff at No. 19 North Carolina as the Fighting Irish look to preserve their undefeated record against a Tar Heels team that ranks among the most potent offenses in the country. This game is massive not only as ND continues to build its resume but as UNC looks to rebound after starting the season as one of the most talked about teams in the nation.
The Fighting Irish have looked great on offense as well their last couple times out, putting up 47 points in the win against Clemson and 45 points against Boston College. Ian Book completed 20-of-27 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns with a team-high 85 rushing yards, no sacks and no interceptions in the win against the Eagles, continuing what has been a run of fantastic football from the veteran quarterback. Book’s play has come at the perfect time, with the Irish jumping into first place in the ACC standings in this lone year of conference competition.
North Carolina’s top-20 ranking from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee comes as good news for Notre Dame, since it came six spots higher than the Tar Heels’ spot in the AP Top 25 poll. That suggests that the committee thinks highly of North Carolina and its 6-2 profile that includes just two three-point losses, even if they came to unranked teams.
A win for the Irish will bolster their resume in the eyes of the committee while a loss may not do as much damage. But if the Tar Heels were to pick up the upset win, the ACC Championship Game race will get a lot more interesting down the stretch. So who wins this showdown in Chapel Hill? Let’s take a closer look at the storylines to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread.
Notre Dame: Now that we’ve reached the final weeks of the season, the possibility of what could be Notre Dame first and only conference championship is starting to be finalized. The Irish are two wins away from locking in a spot in the ACC Championship Game and given their recent form, there is definitely a possibility that they could win the rematch against Clemson, even with Trevor Lawrence in the lineup for the Tigers. But even if Notre Dame isn’t able to win that game in Charlotte, it still is looking at the profile that could be good enough to make the College Football Playoff, giving the ACC two teams in the playoff for the first time and marking just the second time ever that one conference has represented half of the playoff field. None of this is possible without the ACC and Notre Dame coming to an agreement on how to handle the 2020 season, and it’s looking more and more like the “win-win” that commissioner John Swofford describes whenever he discusses the relationship between the league and partial football member.
North Carolina: There is a real sense within the program that Friday’s game against Notre Dame is a chance to finish the job after coming up just short in an upset bid against Clemson in 2019. The Tar Heels had the perfect gameplan to limit the Tigers offense and Sam Howell led a game-tying touchdown drive in the final minutes, only to get stopped short on what was a potential game-winning, two-point try and lose by one point. Mack Brown’s ambitious decision to go for it in that moment was a statement of purpose for how he viewed the Tar Heels in relation to the best teams in the ACC, and I’d expect a similarly aggressive attack plan when taking aim against the Irish in 2020.
Date: Friday, Nov. 27 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Notre Dame vs. North Carolina prediction, picks
If this game gets a little loose and the Tar Heels can turn it into a shootout, I love their chances to cover with the possibility of an outright upset. Simply put, if the game does turn into a back-and-forth affair, which quarterback do you trust to lead touchdown drives in the fourth quarter? Howell has been one of the elite crunch-time quarterbacks in all of college football over the last two years, and the ability to generate explosive plays in the passing game means no lead is safe. Even if it’s Howell kicking in the backdoor on a furious late charge that comes up 3 or 4 points short (another likely scenario), we still cash the cover with this favorable number. Pick: North Carolina (+4.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 13? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past four-plus seasons — and find out.