photo by Alex Kormann
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 Georgia Tech against a reeling Tar Heel team in what felt like a gimme. Let the streak continue. As for this week…
Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m.: Notre Dame (-13) @ UNC, O/U 63
In a season full of adversity and disappointment, this weekend might be the toughest yet for North Carolina.
Fresh off a blowout loss at Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels (1-4, 0-3 ACC) are rewarded with a home tilt against Notre Dame (4-1) in the Fighting Irish's first of four ACC games this season. The Golden Domes opened as 17-point favorites to start the week, but that number settled at 13 just hours before kickoff.
Two touchdowns? Take the money and run.
It's not that Notre Dame, ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and just outside the top 25 in the coaches' poll, is vastly superior to the teams UNC has faced this season. In fact, the Fighting Irish are probably worse than Louisville — a consensus top-20 team that the Tar Heels took to the wire in Week 2 before letting their lead slip away. Through five games, Notre Dame has beat up on three doormats, handled a middling Michigan State team and lost at home to Georgia.
But contrast that to North Carolina, a team that's already drawing positives for 2018 before the bye week hits. With 13 players out for the year — many of them starters — and a handful more fighting the injury bug, UNC's struggled to keep pace as the fourth quarter looms each week. Last week in Atlanta, the Tar Heels didn't even score until the final quarter, while Georgia Tech had its way early and often. The defense is too out of sync to hold teams under 30 most weeks, and the offense is too snakebitten to counter.
The Fighting Irish have scored at least 38 points in all four of their wins, but they aren't without their own injury woes. The primary setback lies with quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who was a game-time decision after starting every game this season. Come game time, he's a no-go save for emergency situations, so sophomore Ian Book will take the reins.
Book's attempted eight passes in his collegiate career, and Wimbush is Notre Dame's second-leading rusher (402 yards) and leads in rushing touchdowns (eight). But Wimbush has struggled with his accuracy all season, and Book took first-team snaps throughout the week. And nothing eases the pressure of a first start on the road quite like facing the ever-disconnected unit that is UNC's defense.
Even if Book struggles, he's got two of the best safety valves in the country to guide him.
Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior, is a first-round NFL talent primed for a breakout every single week. He leads the Fighting Irish in receptions (14), yards (202) and touchdowns (two), just as he did last season. On the ground, running back Josh Adams ranks fourth in the country in rushing yards (658) to lead Notre Dame's seventh-ranked rushing attack. The junior is averaging nine yards per carry and 8.6 yards per catch, and he'll test the Tar Heel front seven on every snap.
Simply put, North Carolina doesn't have a player of the caliber of either of Notre Dame's top weapons — before or after the injury rush. And now, with backups cycling through the depth chart and redshirt freshman QB Chazz Surratt still learning what plays to make and when to make them, the Tar Heels might be lucky to top 20 points. Notre Dame should easily mount a two-touchdown lead and never look back.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame (-13), UNDER (63)
BTL RECORD: 5-0 ATS, 3-2 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!