What happens when the ACC's most explosive offense runs head on into a brick wall defense? That answer will come on September 18 at Noon in Chapel Hill (TV coverage on local Raycom affiliates).
The defending ACC Champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will travel to Kenan Memorial Stadium to face off against the University of North Carolina Tarheels in the opening conference game for both squads. This early season brawl could prove to be a key game in what's sure to be a heated fight for the Coastal Division crown.
In this, the ACC's most loaded division, with four teams having a viable shot at it's top spot (Georgia Tech, Miami, UNC, and VT), each divisional victory will be vital for positioning at years end.
Georgia Tech's head man Paul Johnson will take his dynamic Flex-bone offense, led by QB Joshua Nesbitt on the road for a second consecutive week. Georgia Tech should be 2-0 entering this game, with presumed victories over SC State and Kansas.
Those games should have the Jackets offense with new feature B-Back Anthony Allen, well primed and running smoothly. Those games should also give a nice test and plenty of live repetitions for the new 3-4 defense the Jackets will field.
That defense, led by former UVA Head Coach Al Groh, Georgia Tech's new DC should know just how to prepare for his former conference foe. Last season his Virginia team nearly shutout UNC, 16-3 in Chapel Hill.
With attacking linebackers and an experienced secondary, Georgia Tech will try and force North Carolina's Sr. QB, Tyler Yates to beat them. Yates, a three year starter, has yet to prove he is more than a game manager for the Heels, who generally rely on a power run game to generate the bulk of their offensive production.
Led by the fierce tandem of senior RBs Ryan Huston and Shaun Draughn, UNC's backfield is big, tough, and capable. Add Sr. WR Greg Little and North Carolina's offense will have a wealth of experience on the field each week.
But if they want to keep up with the Ramblin Wreck they will have to improve on the 108th ranked offense displayed in 2009 if they want to compete with Georgia Tech.
As bad as the Tarheels were on offense last season, their defense was outstanding. Ranked No. 6 in the country in total defense, UNC's defensively minded head coach Butch Davis, somehow retained all of his big time playmakers.
With seven returning senior starters—led by All-American candidates DE Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant, and safety Deunta Williams, and CB Kendric Burney—"loaded" is an understatement for the experience and talent found on UNC's defensive side of the ball.
Add in star junior DE Robert Quinn and UNC has a lineup that should keep thier anemic offense in most games. If the saying holds true that "defense wins championships", UNC should be the team favored for the ACC title.
But, with an opening week slug-fest against LSU at the Georgia Dome, followed by a very early week two bye, UNC might struggle in their home opener to find rhythm and practice patience should a slow offensive start plague the Heels.
Last season, despite a fantastic defensive effort, Georgia Tech rolled over UNC, 24-7.
To further add doubt as to UNC's legitmacy in the ACC Costal division race, North Carolina has lost its last nine conference openers.
With such history big questions emerge:
Will UNC find any offensive identity to start the 2010 season?
Can the Tarheels contain the explosive Jacket offense enough to stay in the game?
Despite UNC's home field advantage, amazing collection of defensive talent, and upperclassmen laden offense, Georgia Tech just might have the edge in this game.
Simply put—Georgia Tech will score points on any team and UNC's defense will be counted on to keep those points in the manageable range.
All of this points to a very close game between two very competitive teams with every possible advantage given to UNC, except for, the ability to score points at the pace of the Yellow Jackets.
Prediction: GT 23 - UNC 20