North Carolina (4-2) vs. Florida State (2-4)

[8 p.m., Oct. 22, Kenan Memorial Stadium]

Televised by ESPN

The Thursday night atmosphere was supposed to be window dressing for a pivotal ACC contest midway through the season. Unfortunately for these two teams, neither has beaten an ACC foe and the loser will face an even tougher road to bowl eligibility.

UNC coach Butch Davis pitched for a Thursday night contest in Chapel Hill as part of his plan for advancing the football program. After all the fuss, a loss won’t do much to further that mission.

Bobby Bowden, meanwhile, needs a victory to stop the bleeding in what could be his final season coaching.

Key stats: Florida State’s passing attack, led by quarterback Christian Ponder, averages nearly 298 yards per game — good for 13th in the nation. Six Seminoles have 13 or more receptions on the season and Ponder efficiently spreads the ball among them.

The deep receiving corps will clash against North Carolina’s No. 1-ranked passing defense. Opponents have averaged 125 yards through the air against the Heels. Of course these numbers are inflated by playing run-oriented Georgia Tech and two FCS teams.

Still, the matchup between UNC’s secondary and the speedy FSU receivers will be key. Whoever wins that matchup should win the game, barring a vast amount of turnovers on either side.

Best message board tidbit on the game: A tale of a divided fan base …

The Florida State pessimist:

1) I think your front seven will give us fits in the running game.

2) I think our lack of pressure combined with our man zero scheme will make your QB look better than he has all year.

3) MAYBE if we can force a turn over or two we can keep it close.

4) I think we will have to score 35 plus to win.

The Florida State pessimist desperately clinging to the past:

Wow, I know you UNC folks know nothing about football, but 1990 was not that long ago.

Coming from a UNC fan, who has zero football history. To compare yourself to Tech? Are you serious. ROFL.

Maybe you should not post again until Basketball season gets here.

Don’t feel to bad… At least Heather D thinks you are better than Duke, if just by a little.

UNC will win if … The defense is not only disciplined enough to be dominant but if it can handle FSU’s athletes. So far UNC has proved it can stop average offenses but it failed against the only elite athletes faced this season (Georgia Tech).

The Heels need a big day from T.J. Yates, too, who tossed only six touchdowns against seven interceptions through the first six games. With the possible return of tight end Zack Pianalto, the passing game could explode against the 19th worst passing defense in the nation.

Florida State will win if … UNC’s offense doesn’t take any steps forward and the FSU athletes expose the vaunted defense.

Ponder showed the ability to carve a talented defense when he threw for 294 yards against Miami in the season opening 34-38 loss. If the Heels don’t pressure him, this game could be over early with a few big plays.

The Seminoles will be missing star tight end Caz Piurowski (knee) and need Beau Reliford to step in smoothly for the passing game to excel.

What people are saying about the game: “They’re still Florida State,” UNC corner Kendric Burney said. “Growing up in the ’90s, Florida State was pretty much all you heard about in the ACC.”

From “Butch ain’t going to get up there and be happy to have a job,” FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. “He’s going to want to win a national championship. And if he keeps recruiting like he does, he’s going to get in that fight.”

Vegas line (4-1): UNC (-3)

My prediction (5-1): Both of these teams are poised for a signature performance Thursday night, but I’ll take Robert Quinn and the rest of the UNC front seven to put constant pressure on Ponder.

The Florida State defense has allowed big numbers from ACC opponents, and UNC’s offense, although the worst in the ACC, will put up enough touchdowns and will be aided by a few key defensive plays.

UNC 24, FSU 17

NCAA Football 10 simulation score (4-2): UNC 30, FSU 15

UNC key performance: T.J. Yates, 18-for-26, 229 passing yards, three touchdowns

FSU key performance: Defensive tackle Everett Dawkins (replacing senior Budd Thacker), 12 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two sacks