No. 22 UNC (3-0) at Georgia Tech (2-1)

[12 p.m., Sept. 26, Bobby Dodd Stadium]


1997 … that’s the last time UNC won against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Last season a similarly alarming statistic was brought up when the Heels traveled to Charlottesville, where they have now failed to win 14 times in a row.

Those statistics and other factors remind me of last season’s 16-13 loss to the Cavaliers. UNC entered that game ready to take a strangle hold on the Coastal Division and solidify its national ranking.

This season, UNC beat three opponents it should have and the weaknesses seen in Blacksburg and Atlanta have opened a door for UNC to compete against Miami for the Coastal Division title. A loss here and ACC championship plans look rather weak.

Key stats: With Georgia Tech’s offense centered on running … running … and then running again, this game will be won in the trenches.

UNC is allowing just 1.8 yards per carry while Georgia Tech piles up nearly 250 yards on the ground each game, good for 16th in the nation.

Will Carolina’s strength — its linebackers and defensive line — control the Yellow Jackets’ playmakers who were bottled up against Miami? The Hurricanes gave the Yellow Jackets fits with a similar core of defensive talent, so we’re about to find out just how good this vaunted Carolina defense is.

Best message board tidbit on the game: Wise Heel fan on the absurd possibility raised that UNC could go undefeated and reach the championship game: “Get over yourself. The point is, we don’t need to start sounding like the folks over at Crackride, talking about a possible BCS title game appearance after 3 freakin’ games. Beat Tech, and then let’s move on. NC game talk is absurd at this point in the season. I’ve seen many up here bashing the State and EZU fans for mentioning BCS bowl talk, and now here we are with multiple threads on our board talking about the same thing. Again, beat Tech this week, and then let’s worry about the next game.”

UNC will win if … The Yellow Jackets fail to convert on third and fourth down like they did in Chapel Hill last season. The Tar Heels stalled Georgia Tech on several key fourth down attempts while the Yellow Jackets were in scoring position. Don’t be surprised when the Carolina front seven gives up a ton of rushing yards compared to their average. Paul Johnson’s offense piles up rushing yards even against the best fronts.

If the defense plays well and T.J. Yates continues to make sound decisions like he did against ECU and in the fourth quarter against UConn, this game could go the same direction as last season.

Georgia Tech will win if … Running back Jonathan Dwyer breaks out of his slump. Through the first three games, Dwyer, who was slated by some to be a dark horse Heisman candidate, rushed for 168 yards on 30 carries with 74 yards coming on his first rush against Jacksonville State.

The Yellow Jackets simply have more playmakers than UNC on the offensive end. Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt and Anthony Allen act as a three-headed monster and are scary when clicking.

What people are saying about the game: Paul Johnson on retribution from last season’s loss: ‘Personally, I would like to beat North Carolina. I can’t answer for the 120 guys on the team, but I guarantee they want to beat us, too. We are not going to win the game by wanting to beat them more. We have to channel that to go out, play harder and more efficiently than them. That is the biggest misnomer out there that we are going to win this game because we really want to. They can change that with one lick to the head. Then maybe it is I did not want to win that as much as I thought I did.”

ESPN blogger Heather Dinich on her prediction for a 24-14 Carolina win: “The Yellow Jackets have too many problems up front — on both sides of the ball — to overcome the Tar Heels’ stingy defense and rapidly improving offense. UNC proved last year it can contain Paul Johnson’s offense in a 28-7 win, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t do it again.”

Vegas line (3-0): Georgia Tech (-3)

My prediction (3-0): This game is a toss-up. Do you take the Heels for their strong defense that is similar to the Hurricanes, who crushed the Georgia Tech rushing attack? Or do you take Georgia Tech for its home-field advantage and extra time to prepare?

My instinct tells me we’re going to see a game eerily similar to the game in Charlottesville last season. The Tar Heels are going to look like the better team, but inconsistency on offense will allow the Yellow Jackets just enough room to make the big plays.

The UNC rushing attack won’t be there like it was against ECU, and the passing game will suffer as a result. Yates will lose this quarterback duel. I’ll take the home team and Dwyer over the stingy defense.

Georgia Tech 24, UNC 20

NCAA Football 10 simulation score (2-1): Georgia Tech 21, UNC 17

Georgia Tech key performance: Josh Nesbitt, 11-for-20, 192 yards passing (yeah right!), 65 yards rushing.

UNC key performance: T.J. Yates, 19-for-33, 311 yards, two touchdowns, one interception.