The 5-0 Miami Hurricanes (No. 10 in the AP poll) travel to North Carolina on Oct. 17 for a midweek, prime-time Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.
Miami defeated Georgia Tech 45-30 in its ACC opener, and the fast-approaching tilt with the Tar Heels is sure to be another big game for Al Golden's team.
Every game can essentially be considered a must-win (because the term wrongly suggests one game is more important than another), but the 'Canes absolutely need to emerge victorious from Kenan Stadium. And history is not on the team's side; since joining the ACC, Miami is just 1-3 when visiting Chapel Hill, N.C.
But due to a fellow Coastal Division team's early success and remaining conference slate, a Hurricanes win over North Carolina is absolutely crucial.
Miami Has Played Just One ACC Game
Despite some real struggles during the first quarter against Georgia Tech, Miami rebounded to hang 38 of the game's next 44 points on the board and started conference play with a victory.
But, through no fault of their own (it's the way the schedule worked out), the Hurricanes have only played one ACC game to Virginia Tech's three.
Al Golden has his team rolling with a 5-0 record, but the remaining competition is no cakewalk.
After the matchup with North Carolina, Miami plays at Florida State on Nov. 2 and hosts Virginia Tech the following week. Additionally, the 'Canes must deal with a pesky Virginia squad and will travel to Pittsburgh for a regular-season finale in the wintry Pennsylvania weather.
Miami certainly has a handful of very talented teams it must overcome throughout the rest of the regular season.
Virginia Tech Has Already Beaten Teams Considered to Be Contenders
The Hokies are already 3-0 in ACC play, and the wins didn't come against the conference bottom-dwellers.
As seen on the above table, save for the Hurricanes, Virginia Tech has already dispatched its biggest competition by defeating Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh—and Miami has yet to play two of those three programs.
Frank Beamer's team—somewhat unexpectedly—escaped its most difficult conference stretch with three wins and zero losses.
Virginia Tech now faces strictly mediocre opponents with Duke (4-2), Boston College (3-3), Maryland (5-1) and Virginia (2-4) remaining on the schedule.
This is not to diss the Hokies or their remaining opponents; simply, Virginia Tech has taken care of its business in conference play. Sure, the games haven't been impressive, but the Hokies' 3-0 ACC record is not judged by flair or style.
Virginia Tech does play on the road at Boston College, and the Eagles have played both Florida State and Clemson tightly. With Miami looming as the following week's opponent, the Hokies could overlook Boston College on Nov. 2 and be taken down.
I Get It, but Why Is the Win That Important?
Hypotheticals, my friends.
The Hurricanes will face their toughest test of the year against Florida State—and Miami fans, I urge you to not kid yourselves: The Seminoles are a very, very good team.
But regardless of what the 'Canes do against FSU, Miami must beat Virginia Tech to hold the tiebreaker over the Hokies. If the Hurricanes are toppled by the Tar Heels, "The U" cannot afford to lose to Virginia Tech, period.
The undefeated-in-conference Hokies' remaining schedule, simply, is less daunting than what Miami faces.
The Hurricanes' Nov. 9 meeting against Virginia Tech will more than likely decide which program represents the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game, so a loss to UNC puts Golden's crew in a tough spot in the standings.
If Miami enters that pivotal contest with two conference losses (UNC and FSU), Virginia Tech, quite possibly, could still have zero ACC losses.
Sure, the Hokies could lose to BC, but the Hurricanes cannot count on an upset special for their division title aspirations; Miami must beat North Carolina to remain the favorite to win the Coastal Division.