North Carolina’s win over Pittsburgh last Thursday ended a 13-game Triangle losing streak, so it was not just a turning point for the Tar Heels. The stakes are slightly lower for UNC (2-8) this week, hosting Western Carolina, but are extremely high for both N.C. State and Duke.
While the Wolfpack (7-3) no longer has a shot at the ACC title game, it still has everything to play for at Wake Forest (6-4) on Saturday in terms of both bowl position and school history, still chasing that 10-win mark. Duke (4-6), meanwhile, needs at least one win and probably two against Georgia Tech (5-4) and Wake Forest to get back to a bowl game after missing out last season.
After going 1-2 straight up and 0-2-1 against the spread, my once-pristine record has become somewhat less impressive: 25-8 straight up, 17-14-2 against the spread. With two weeks to go, the pressure is on everybody to finish strong. And with no line on the UNC-WCU game, the bonus pick is ... an East Carolina win(!), 20-17 over Cincinnati. The Pirates should have won last week against Tulane, and there finally might be a hint of positive momentum in Greenville.
Last week: “Feels like 5-7 is probably their ceiling at this point, given how well the Jackets and Deacons have played this season.”
This week: Duke now faces the difficult reality that last season’s plunge from bowl eligibility was not a one-year dip in form but the beginning of a trend. Even if the Blue Devils win out to get to 6-6, which seems unlikely, and even if they can pull off an upset and sneak into a bowl at 5-7 thanks to their academic standing, which seems equally improbable, this wasn’t the turnaround season Duke wanted. Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks, it’s going to be an offseason of soul-searching and difficult decisions for David Cutcliffe about the direction of his program.
Saturday prediction: Georgia Tech 28, Duke 17
Last week: “At this point, 3-9 would feel like a minor triumph the way things have gone for much of the season.”
This week: And it’s within reach! With the win in Pittsburgh and Western Carolina next, there’s no reason why North Carolina shouldn’t finish 3-9. And since the Tar Heels will certainly muster everything they have against N.C. State, perhaps an upset is possible (if unlikely) there. Still, getting that ACC win to avoid finishing 0-8 was a big deal, no matter what comes next.
Saturday prediction: North Carolina 35, Western Carolina 14
Last week: “Maintaining focus after the losses to Notre Dame and Clemson may be the Wolfpack’s biggest challenge.”
This week: Mission complete at Boston College, a good win for the Wolfpack for so many reasons, and the same remains true against Wake Forest this week, a tricky opponent in an environment that has proven tricky for N.C. State, not unlike Chestnut Hill. Wake Forest was just fine offensively against Syracuse without go-to receiver Greg Dortsch, so N.C. State needs to maximize its strengths by getting pressure on John Wolford early and often.
Saturday prediction: Wake Forest 40, N.C. State 35
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock