It’s an almost-ranked ACC matchup, as #15 UNC takes on a Wake Forest team that sits just outside the top 25 by most polling methods. The Tar Heels still control their ACC-and potentially even College Football Playoff- destiny, as winning out would make them a one-loss ACC champ with what would be extremely nice wins over NC State and Clemson. It’s by no means likely, just the chance to make it happen is plenty to play for! Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this in-state clash.
North Carolina Vs. Wake Forest Odds
As the better team but also the visitors, +3.5 is an appropriate and intriguing line for UNC. The points total, however, is an eye-popping 77.5; we’ll discuss soon about whether or not that number makes sense.
North Carolina Vs. Wake Forest Prediction & Pick
Above all else, this is a clash between two star quarterbacks. On one side, UNC’s high-talent redshirt freshman Drake Maye has been absolutely outstanding in his first year at the helm. He’s tossed a nation-leading 31 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions so far, averages almost 330 passing yards per game, and completes over 71% of his passes, even with an average depth of target of over 10 yards. Unshockingly, given all of the rest,, he’s the second-highest rated passer among qualified QBs in PFF’s rankings. To top it all off, Maye is UNC’s leading rusher with 513 yards gained on the ground. Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, a much more veteran player, has picked up right where he left off with his breakout 2021 season, and he’s even increased his efficiency by almost all measures. He doesn’t quite achieve the same numbers Maye does, but PFF still thinks he’s a top-20 passer amongst qualifiers. It remains to be seen whether or not this is his final season, but whenever he does hit the NFL draft, his performance to end this season could potentially play a large part in deciding how highly he’s perceived by pro teams.
It’s really tough to project a game with two veritable star QBs that have carried offenses with questionable run games all season, especially when the potentially tougher team is the one on the road. When it comes to the spread, I’m going to have to side with the Tar Heels in what figures to be a tight one. I see this as a potential “Heisman Moment” for Maye, who is seen as one of the top few contenders for college football’s highest individual honor by most predictors. That line of 3.5 is also incredibly significant; that extra half point provides a lot of value in a game that could easily be decided by a late field goal for the home team. Regarding the over, it’s hard to bet against two offenses like this one, but it’s equally tough to actually commit to an over that would imply both teams getting into, or close to, the 40s. I’m not personally investing in either side of that line, but if you must, I’d stay safe and go under.
UNC Air Attack vs. Wake Forest Pass Defense
The assault on opposing DB’s launched by Drake Maye this year has been nothing short of nonstop; Wake Forest’s defense will have to take care to ensure that his production is not gone, but diminished from its usual lofty heights. Maye has done a good job spreading the ball around, particularly between his top two receivers. Josh Downs leads the way in all three categories with 63 catches, 693 yards and 8 scores. Meanwhile, Antoine Green has filled a much different role, catching only 26 balls but averaging a staggering 23 yards per catch. He’s also scored 6 touchdowns, meaning just less than a quarter of his catches have ended in the end zone; he’s a true home run-hitting deep threat. The UNC o-line’s pass blocking can be described as decent more than as excellent, ranking 66th in the country by PFF’s estimation. Left tackle Asim Richards has been a major anchor in this respect, as has center Corey Gaynor; but Ed Montilus, the guard in between, has been a major liability.
They’ll have to deal with an excellent pass rush from Wake Forest, the second-best in the nation actually, if you ask PFF. Edge rusher Rondell Bothroyd has been awesome, earning a PFF pass rush grade over 91, due in large part to a pass rush win rate of almost 20% and his perfect, zero-penalty record on the season. Down lineman Kobie Turner has also been great from his interior position, winning over o-linemen more than 16% of the time, and he’s even batted down three passes to go along with 6 hurries so far. The secondary has been good but less excellent than the pass rush; Wake has achieved the 35th-best coverage score on PFF across all FBS teams. The safety duo of Chelen Garnes and AJ Williams has been strong for the Deacs; the two haven’t been charged with responsibility for a touchdown pass all year. The cornerbacks, on the other hand, could be a liability, none of them have been great, some have been bad, and Maye can feel comfortable going after any of them. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Wake’s defense gets after one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but they certainly have the firepower at all levels to make things harder for him than they are on his average Saturday.
Wake Forest Air Attack vs. UNC Pass Defense
Yep, it’s another one of these; the same unit-versus-unit matchup on either side of the ball will be absolutely pivotal to finding a winner in this one. We’ve already talked a bit about how excellent Hartman has been for his team, but let’s take a look at some of his weapons. A.T. Perry has been nothing short of outstanding this year, racking up 711 yards on 47 catches, and finding the end zone 6 times. Jahmal Banks actually has more touchdowns though, 8 so far, as Hartman has liked going to him in scoring situations. Donavon Greene leads the team with 17 yards per catch, and Taylor Morin has also tacked on 5 scores; it’s a well-balanced receiving group with a lot of solid options, anchored by a true WR1 in Perry. The offensive line has been solid in keeping Hartman upright, they rank 54th in the country in PFF’s pass blocking grade. Unlike many teams, the best pass blocker on Wake’s o-line is right tackle DeVonte Gordon, and each blocker gets a little bit worse as you move left spot by spot, until you get to left tackle Je’Vionte’ Nash, who has been a downright liability.
UNC have a pretty strong pass rush themselves, 38th in the country as per PFF. Edge rushing duo Kaimon Rucker and Noah Taylor have been solid all season long, both winning just about 18% of the time in their battles with o-linemen. Conversely, the Tar Heels don’t create as much pressure on the interior line. The secondary, however, has been a good bit softer, ranking just outside the top hundred in PFF’s coverage grade; this could mean a big opportunity for Hartman and co. Linebacker Cedric Gray has earned a score of 73.8 in this category, but nobody else on the team- most notably, anyone in the actual secondary- is above the very mediocre mark of 66.3 posted by starting corner Storm Duck (legendary college football name alert). The safeties have been mediocre at best, and the corners outside of Duck have been an absolute disaster, punctuated by full time starter DeAndre Boykins who is allowing a completion percentage similar to what Maye is putting up on the offensive side. If he’s able to evade the pass rush, Hartman could have a real career day against UNC’s mediocre secondary, and help his team pick up a huge home win.