Between the Lines: UNC football vs. Duke

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 UNC for the first time all season against a crippled Old Dominion team. At least one of us is undefeated. As for this week…

Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m.: Duke (-1) @ UNC, O/U 60

Sometimes, emotions can fool us all.

Take this weekend, for instance, when Duke (3-0) heads into Kenan Stadium for its ACC opener against North Carolina (1-2). The Blue Devils opened as 3-point favorites and it probably should been higher, given how Duke embarrassed Northwestern and smothered Baylor in consecutive weeks. But fear not, say Tar Heel fans, who are piling money on UNC like it's a silent auction.

Sure, North Carolina looked nice in Norfolk, when it blew the doors off an Old Dominion team with virtually no offensive weapons and a Conference-USA defense. And yes, anything can happen in a rivalry game in September, when neither team is downtrodden enough to have its motivation quelled.

But I didn't ride emotions to a 3-0 start. And I won't succumb to them this week, either.

See, emotions can't breathe life into a Tar Heel team that's been decimated by injuries. This week's injury report featured six offensive linemen — three starters — and it didn't include guards Nick Polino or Khaliel Rodgers, who have both battled injuries in recent weeks. Senior Thomas Jackson, who leads UNC's receivers with two touchdowns, is out for the year; linebacker Andre Smith, tied for the team lead in tackles, joins him.

What's left, at least along the offensive line, is a unit that will struggle to ward off Duke's top-ranked rush defense. In subsequent weeks, the Blue Devils have held their opponents to 64 yards, 22 yards and 57 yards on the ground, allowing just 1.8 yards per carry. The Tar Heels' two running backs are trending in the right direction, but the offensive line is hardly equipped to handle Duke's pressure up front. And UNC's quarterbacks, improving but unproven, might not be either.

North Carolina's front seven has struggled to generate pressure all year, and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones will make them pay if they can't change Saturday. A redshirt freshman last year, Jones freshman threw for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns as a fill-in starter when incumbent Thomas Sirk went down in the preseason. Jones has improved his completion percentage, yards per attempt and TD-to-INT ratio through three games this season — just in time to face a UNC secondary that's allowed a combined 756 yards through the air in its two home games this season. A field day awaits.

Sure, a rivalry matchup can always produce wild results when it's as heated as this one. Just take last year, when a potentially playoff-bound UNC team collapsed in Wallace Wade Stadium because Mitch Trubisky lost his head in the final two minutes. Or the year before, in Kenan Stadium, when the Tar Heels obliterated a quality Duke team behind a rush of trick plays and long bombs. The fight for the Victory Bell has led to some memorable shootouts as of late, and both teams know this week's outcome could potentially swing the season.

But don't let excitement cloud common sense. This is UNC's worst team in three years, further weakened by injuries, and it's shaping up to be one of Duke's best. North Carolina's strength is rushing the ball; the Blue Devils are best in the nation at stopping it. UNC weakness is stopping the pass; Jones is among the ACC's best. In its first road test of the year, Duke should have no issue building an early lead, but the Tar Heels' injury-riddled offense will struggle to mount a comeback.

This isn't the time to bet on emotion. You'll thank me later.

PREDICTION: Duke (-1), UNDER (60)

BTL RECORD: 3-0 ATS, 2-1 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!