After two contests against FCS opponents last week, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Wake Forest Demon Deacons open their ACC schedule looking for a much-needed win on Saturday.
Though both teams came out ahead last Saturday, it was a tale of two different experiences.
Week 1 marked the debut of new Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora, and things could not have gone better. North Carolina dominated an overmatched Elon squad from the opening kickoff, winning 62-0 en route to the school's highest-scoring performance in 13 years.
On the other hand, it was a nail-biter for Jim Grobe's Wake Forest squad. The team needed a late touchdown run from Deandre Martin to cap a 20-17 victory over Liberty, an FCS school out of Virginia.
Will either game be a sign of things to come, or just a momentary blip on the radar? We'll likely find out this week.
With that in mind, here's a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's game.
When: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Watch: Fox Sports Regional Coverage
Listen: SiriusXM 197/132, Wake Forest Radio Network
Betting Line: North Carolina (-4.5) via Vegas Insider
North Carolina Injuries (via USA Today)
RB Giovani Bernard, Knee, Probable
WR Reggie Wilkins, Undisclosed, Questionable
WR T.J. Thorpe, Foot, Out
Wake Forest Injuries (via USA Today)
CB Merrill Noel, Hamstring, Questionable
TE Neil Basford, Achilles, Out
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Which team will win?
Both teams come into this contest winners last week, but fringe second-tier contenders in the ACC.
Nevertheless, North Carolina came into the season receiving some Top 25 votes, and last week's victory over Elon bolstered its ranking even further. If the Tar Heels come out Saturday and put together an impressive victory, they could sneak into the back half of the rankings for Week 3.
It won't matter in the short term, as the team is ineligible for a bowl game this season. However, a ranking could go a long way toward rebuilding the Tar Heels' reputation for recruits going forward.
What They're Saying
After eviscerating FCS school Elon, Fedora was happy with how his players performed, using a rather vanilla playbook. This week should be different as the Tar Heels look to open it up, and the North Carolina head coach is looking for some early-season urgency from his players this week.
Per Aaron Beard of The Republic:
We only get 12 (games), right? And this is No. 2. It'll all be over with before you know it. Even though we're at the beginning of the season, there's got to be a sense of urgency. This is the next step.
On the other hand, Grobe's Demon Deacons didn't exactly perform as expected, barely scraping by a competitive Liberty team. After the game, the Wake Forest coach said he could sense his players' disappointment, though he was far more positive about the outcome.
Via Rob Daniels of WakeForestSports.com:
The players probably feel differently than I do. The players wanted to win more convincingly, but for me, 3-0 or 49-0 is fine. We have a lot of mistakes to get corrected.
North Carolina Player to Watch: QB Bryn Renner
After getting some second-half rest in the Week 1 blowout of Elon, Renner will likely have to stay on the field all four quarters Saturday.
And with the Demon Deacons struggling in pass coverage throughout their scare against Liberty, the junior quarterback could be in line for a huge performance.
For Renner, this could be the first marquee game of a full-fledged breakout season. The 6'2" signal-caller emerged on the scene last season, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. With the bulk of the offense in his hands again, Renner will need to keep his efficiency level while throwing the ball more often in 2012.
This week against Wake Forest should be the first indicator of whether he'll be able to do so.
Wake Forest Player to Watch: RB Deandre Martin
If Week 1 is any indication of future performance, the Demon Deacons may struggle all year to find a consistent rushing attack.
Despite scoring the go-ahead touchdown in his team's win last Saturday, redshirt freshman Martin struggled all game. Carrying the ball 21 times, Martin compiled just 74 yards and had no runs for longer than 13 yards.
Going forward, those numbers must vastly improve.
Nevertheless, if Martin can repeat those numbers this week, Wake Forest may be able to compete Saturday.
North Carolina gave up just 42 yards on 36 carries to Elon last week and should have one of the better run defenses in the ACC this season. If Martin can pound out some ugly yards, it could go a long way to freeing up quarterback Tanner Price's receivers down the field.
Key Matchup: Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro vs. North Carolina's Secondary
For Price, the one receiver that must get open on Saturday is Campanaro, who has seemingly become the quarterback's security blanket.
With nine catches for 96 yards, the junior was the only receiver on the Demon Deacons roster to have more than two catches or 40 yards receiving.
Those stats mean the quarterback-receiver chemistry won't be a problem. Price and Campanaro seem more in sync than most combos are at the midpoint in the season.
However, that Week 1 performance makes the Tar Heels' job easy on defense. Suffocate Campanaro and force Price to find his other receivers, none of which were particularly impressive against Liberty.
If the North Carolina defense keys on Campanaro and stops him, there's little chance that Wake Forest will come out on top.
We only have one week to go on, but it seems like the Tar Heels are far superior at this early juncture. The close call against Liberty may spark an internal flame in the Wake Forest offense, but it seemed far too stagnant last week for me to feel comfortable picking them.
Look for the Tar Heels to win this one rather comfortably.
Score Prediction: North Carolina 28, Wake Forest 10