Between the Lines: UNC football vs. Virginia

Welcome back to my betting column, "Between the Lines," where each week I'll analyze the line for UNC games and tell you which side to trust. Last week, I told you to take Notre Dame and the monstrous point spread. It seems so obvious in hindsight, doesn't it? As for this week…

Oct. 14 at 3:30 p.m.: Virginia (-3.5) @ UNC, O/U 51.5

This was supposed to be "the win."

For all of the woes and injury concerns this season, the North Carolina football team could circle this date on the calendar with certainty. A home game against Virginia, a team coming off five straight losing seasons. This would be the first Power Five win of the year, and the first at home in over 11 months. This would be the first, and potentially only, ACC win. At the very least, this would just be a win...right?

Not anymore. Instead, the Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3 ACC) are the ones who seem destined for the ACC Coastal cellar, while the Cavaliers (4-1, 1-0) are pushing for conference relevance.

Yet reputations die hard, and coming into Saturday's game at Kenan Stadium, Virginia is only favored by just over a field goal. That's absurd.

Before last week's debilitating loss to Notre Dame, UNC was simply limping through the rest of its schedule and staying in games with splash plays from offensive fireplugs. But the team is worse than it was a week ago, what with the loss of senior safety Donnie Miles and sophomore punter Tom Sheldon.

Miles was arguably the steadiest player left on the Tar Heel defense, and Sheldon was inarguably the team's MVP through six games. Now, the injury report reads nearly 20 deep, with 16 out for the year. It's an injury rash of epic proportions, but it doesn't much help this weekend.

The Cavaliers are primed to take advantage. Virginia boasts the 25th-best defense in the nation in total yards allowed, and the team's two leading tacklers — linebacker Micah Kiser (11 tackles per game) and safety Quin Blanding (10.2 tackles per game — both rank in the top 10 in the country. It's a sound unit that's sure to smother North Carolina's reeling offense, one that hasn't topped 20 points in almost a month.

On the other side, senior Kurt Benkert — one of two returning quarterbacks in the ACC Coastal this season — sits 23rd in the nation in passing yards per game (286.2) and has tossed 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Already without Miles, the Tar Heel defense will need to force turnovers to combat Virginia's steady passing attack, something the unit has struggled to do this season with any consistency.

Should Benkert have even moderate success moving the ball, the Tar Heels will struggle to match blows offensively in what figures to be a low-scoring affair. UNC has already lost four receivers and is still cycling through a thin offensive line. Redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt has shown bursts, but without reliable weapons around him, he won't be able to beat Virginia single-handedly,

Unless the North Carolina defense sees a resurgence, it'll be another long day in Kenan Stadium.

PREDICTION: Virginia (-3.5), UNDER (51.5)

BTL RECORD: 6-0 ATS, 4-2 O/U

Agree/disagree with my picks? Think following my advice is a bad investment (hint: it is) and want to demand a refund? Let me know @CJacksonCowart or in the comments below!

photo by Smith Hardy