The Picks & The Poll: South’s Oldest Rivalry

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The Sabre panel picks the winner of the Virginia football game.
Kurt Benkert and the Hoos may need to match points with an explosive UNC team. ~ Kris Wright

Virginia and North Carolina meet up Saturday for the 121st time in The South’s Oldest Rivalry. What do the Sabre picks think about the showdown?

First, recent history favors the Tar Heels. The visitors from Chapel Hill rattled off six straight victories in this series, the longest streak for the Heels since winning nine straight from 1974-82. That’s bad news in and of itself. The spread in some of those games? Worse. In 5 of 6 matchups, Carolina notched victories by double digits. Only the 2014 contest proved close and that one got away from the Hoos late. The Tar Heels rolled by wide margins in three meetings.

  • 2015: 26-13
  • 2014: 28-27
  • 2013: 45-14
  • 2012: 37-13
  • 2011: 28-17
  • 2010: 44-10

UVA, of course, changed coaches with Mike London out after presiding over all six of those contests. Bronco Mendenhall inherited the program and overhauled schemes. The results so far have been mixed so Virginia enters this game 2-4 on the season. North Carolina comes into the contest at 5-2 with an eight-game road winning streak.

So who wins the rivalry showdown? The picks and the poll are up next.

The Picks

Virginia can win if … the offense limits drive droughts. As Bronco Mendenhall pointed out – and the Sabre has analyzed – this week, UVA’s offense is explosive but volatile. At times, the Hoos can rip off big plays and score long touchdowns. At others, they can’t even move the chains for a first down. See the two most recent home games with Central Michigan and Pittsburgh as prime examples. Both games saw the offense put up 28 points in rapid fire style and then fizzle for long stretches. Virginia recovered to score some late and beat CMU. Not so much with Pitt.

Virginia can lose if … special teams struggles again. Even with the offense’s disappearing act against Pittsburgh, the bigger issue at first came on special teams. The Hoos gave up a 93-yard touchdown return to Quadree Henderson and a 69-yard return to Rafael Araujo-Lopes that set up another one. Those 14 points made up the final margin of defeat. UNC’s T.J. Logan already notched a kickoff return touchdown this season and punt returner Ryan Switzer owns a dangerous track record in that phase too. If UVA is going to keep up with North Carolina’s likely explosive offense, it can’t concede points or much field position on special teams.

And the winner is …

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Fans over the years have watched Virginia lose games it “shouldn’t” but also beat an opponent when they “shouldn’t win” too. What does that have to do with North Carolina? For starters, this is not a game UVA should win on paper. The Hoos clearly trail statistically and with consistency. Still, it’s a rivalry game more than 100 years old and stranger things have happened in the series. On the other hand, has UVA already lost the game it shouldn’t (Richmond) and won one it shouldn’t too (Duke)? I don’t know, but I don’t see any magic in store at Scott Stadium this week. UNC 44, VIRGINIA 27. Season to date: 3-3.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Being consistent offensively, special teams coverage, and pressuring the quarterback are all serious question marks for this Virginia team heading into Saturday’s contest with North Carolina. The Heels held a potentially explosive Miami offense to only 13 points last week, feature two top returners in T.J. Logan and Ryan Switzer, and get the ball out quickly. Logan has returned one kickoff for a touchdown already this year, while Switzer is one of the best punt returners in the college game. UNC has won eight straight road games, including last week’s win at Miami. I think the 5-2 Tar Heels have too much for the Cavaliers. UNC 31, VIRGINIA 17. Season to date: 3-3.

Sabre Analyst Greg Waters: Every now and then there’s a game where when you look at the way a team matches up with the opposition and you get a very uneasy feeling. North Carolina is a very balanced offense with a 119/94 run/pass ratio and the Heels are excellent at running run-pass options plays – something that has and likely will give Virginia trouble. The defense will have to be disciplined and we may see a heavy dose of bend-but-don’t break this weekend. This is an offense that when you misdiagnose the play, big plays and bad things happen. Defensively, the strength for the Heels is an experienced defensive backfield against the strength of the Hoos which is their passing attack. UNC has been vulnerable against the run but Virginia has not been proficient on the ground averaging just 2.7 yards per carry over the last two games. Even JMU rushed for 209 yards against Carolina. Bottom line, what UVA defends poorly the Heels do well and it is 80% of their offense. What Virginia does well offensively the Heels defend well and where Carolina is struggling the Hoos may not be able to take advantage of their weakness. That’s why I feel uneasy and why the Heels will win. UNC 45, VIRGINIA 29. Season to date: 2-4.

Sabre Analyst Ahmad Hawkins (check out The Ball Hawk Show podcast here): UNC will be too consistent on offense for the Hoos to win this football game. Unless the Hoos can do without the typical offensive disappearing acts in the middle quarters, I don’t see them pulling out a victory vs. an efficient QB like Mitch Trubisky. UNC 42, VIRGINIA 24. Season to date: 1-5.

Sabre meteorologist BadgerHoo: A very blustery day behind Friday’s cold front but good football weather. We have a mix of clouds and sun and temps mostly in the mid-upper 50s. With winds gusting up to 30 mph, layer up. It’s going to feel on the chilly side. Game prediction – Heels have too much fire power. UNC 38, VIRGINIA 28. Season to date: 2-4.

The Poll

What about you? Who wins?

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 20-10-2016 11:09:14
End date 22-10-2016 14:55:00
Poll Results:
Who Will Win The Virginia-North Carolina football game?
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