Notre Dame is coming off Win No. 1 of the Marcus Freeman era and now takes it on the road to ACC Country against North Carolina in college football's Week 4 action on Saturday.
Freeman is coming off his first win as Irish head coach, a close, 7-pointer at home to Cal, while the Tar Heels are perfect through three games, but have been put through the ringer in the process: a 63-61 win at App State and a 35-28 affair at Georgia State.
Here's what you need to know about this weekend's matchup.
Week 4 college football schedule: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina
When: Sat., Sept. 24
Time: 3:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ABC network
Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Line: North Carolina -1.5
Moneyline: ND +100 UNC -125
FPI pick: Notre Dame 53.5%
1. Carolina has the QB edge. No question there as Drake Maye comes in with a share of the national lead among quarterbacks with 11 passing touchdowns. That's in addition to 930 yards passing, just 1 pick, and a 74.2 percent completion mark. UNC averages 51 ppg and has scored 99 of its 154 pts (64%) in the 2nd and 4th quarters. It's early yet, but Maye has shown he's more than up to the challenge, aided by a receiving corps 10 strong that's good for almost 13 yards per play.
2. But will it include Josh Downs? Reports indicate that UNC's top receiver will be ready for the game after missing the last 2 with a lower body injury. He had 2 TDs off 9 catches in the opener and broke Carolina's single-season marks with 101 rec and 1,335 receiving yards a year ago in addition to ranking 3rd nationally in yards after the catch. A vital weapon for the Tar Heels to throw at an Irish defense that may not have the speed edge to contain him in space.
3. Notre Dame could throw on Carolina. Florida A&M was playing an 11-point at the end of the third quarter at UNC in the opener before the Heels pulled away. App State piled on 649 yards the next week, and Georgia State forced 3 turnovers and had 421 yards in a 7-point game. In steps Irish quarterback Drew Pyne: he was crisp last week, going 17 of 23 for 2 scores, and goes against a UNC defense that's 123rd nationally and the ACC's worst in scoring. Plus he's playing behind one of college football's better offensive lines and has 2 solid targets in Lorenzo Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer.
+ Notre Dame had 6 sacks on defense last week and averages 3.33 sacks per game, 12th nationally
+ Carolina is 5th nationally with 574.3 total yards per game
+ ND has won 24 straight regular-season games against ACC teams and is 28-1 in the last 4 years
+ UNC is 4th nationally with 51.3 points per game
+ ND is 213-24 (.899) when it scores 30-plus points since 1980
+ Carolina is 7th nationally converting 56.4% of third down attempts
+ Irish have won 168 of their last 236 vs. the ACC (.718)
+ 11 of UNC's 17 losses under Mack Brown are by 7 or fewer points
+ ND is converting .263 on third down, just 124th nationally
+ Carolina is 18-4 the last 2 years when scoring 24-plus points
+ Irish defense allowing .366 conversion on third down, 69th nationally
+ UNC is 7-2 when scoring first and 2-5 when opponents do the last 2 years
+ Notre Dame has won 11 straight ACC road games
+ Carolina is 6-0 when leading at halftime since 2021 and 2-7 when not
North Carolina's hidden weapon might be its punter. Ben Kiernan is 2nd in college football in net punting average with 51.3 yards per boot and is 4th nationally with a 48.4 net yard mark each time out.
Combined with Maye's ability to push the ball downfield, the Tar Heels' skill for pinning teams deep, and Notre Dame's relative struggles on offense, Carolina could have the field position advantage to keep the Irish out of the end zone most of the day.
That's the best chance Carolina might have to keep the Irish out of the end zone. Notre Dame should be able to create consistent passing lanes in the medium portion of the field and convert some early third downs, but doesn't have the power to balance things out as the game stretches on behind a backfield averaging just over 3 ypc.
On an arm-for-arm basis and accounting for athleticism at wide receiver, the edge is with the home team.
College Football HQ Prediction: North Carolina 36, Notre Dame 31
According to AP top 25 poll
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