The ACC season gets started with a bang on Friday night with a matchup between the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Tech Hokies. Both teams have aspirations to win the ACC Coastal Division, so this game could have a significant impact on the final standings. On the road, the Tar Heels are 5.5-point favorites, with the over/under for the game set at 64 points.
Expectations have rarely been higher for the North Carolina Tar Heels than they are heading into 2021. Mack Brown has quickly rebuilt the Tar Heels, going 15-10 in his first two seasons back in Chapel Hill and taking them to the Orange Bowl last season. UNC now enters the 2021 season as a top-10 team that expects to reach the ACC Championship Game and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The situation is a little different for Justin Fuente, who appears to be on the hot seat after last year’s 5-6 season. The Virginia Tech Hokies are accustomed to being a top-25 team and competing for ACC championships, but that hasn’t been the case in recent seasons. Virginia Tech is just 19-18 over the last three seasons, which is why Fuente needs to make a statement with the season opener.
Time for the Burmeister
After finishing the 2020 season as the starting quarterback, Braxton Burmeister will get a chance to be the full-time starter for the Hokies. While he’s largely unproven, even going back to his days at Oregon, Burmeister has some experience and will have two excellent receivers at his disposal in Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner. But whether the Hokies can make it easy on Burmeister with a solid running game after losing Khalil Herbert remains to be seen.
On the other side of the ball, there is a lot of promise despite the Hokies conceding 32 points per game last year. Clemson transfer Jordan Williams and pass-rusher Amare Barno should help to form a strong defensive front. The Hokies also figure to have an excellent secondary with Jermaine Waller and Chamarri Conner, as well as an infusion of talent from freshmen and transfers.
The Tar Heels will be led by quarterback Sam Howell, who could be a legitimate Heisman contender. Howell has two years of starting experience under his belt and averaged over 10 yards per pass attempt last season with 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The only caveat for the UNC offense is that most of Howell’s top playmakers are gone, so it could take some time for everyone to get on the same page.
Defensively, the Tar Heels are in great shape given the way that Brown has recruited. While Chazz Surratt will be tough to replace in the middle of the defense, UNC brings back eight starters and tons of talent on the two-deep. Cornerback Tony Grimes could be a breakout star and one of the best at his position nationally, which should pay dividends against Virginia Tech’s receivers.
On Your Heels
Even with a new batch of backs and receivers around him, we know what Howell can do. The same can’t be said of Burmeister, who will have a talented defense to face. With the spread less than a touchdown, bet on North Carolina to win and cover.
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