Old Dominion (8-3) at North Carolina (5-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kenan Memorial Stadium (63,000) -- Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Television: ACC Regional. Home Record: ODU 6-0, UNC 3-2. Away Record: ODU 2-3, UNC 2-3. Neutral Record: ODU 0-0, UNC 0-0. Conference Record: ODU 0-0, UNC 4-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The suddenly surging North Carolina Tar Heels take a break from ACC action this weekend, as they take on the Old Dominion Monarchs in a non- conference clash at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Larry Fedora's Tar Heels began the season a miserable 1-5, but after four straight victories, UNC is looking to become bowl eligible with two games left. Last week, North Carolina recorded a 34-27 decision over Pittsburgh to improve to 5-5 overall and 4-3 in conference play. The team is eyeing up its first five-game win streak since 2001.
Standing in the way is Bobby Wilder's Monarchs. Old Dominion is in a transition year from the FCS, as the team will compete in the FBS's Conference USA in 2014. The Monarchs are currently 8-3 on the season and completed a perfect 6-0 home record with last weekend's 42-14 rout of Campbell.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
ODU is an impressive 45-13 under Wilder, including an 11-2 mark a year ago, en route to a quarterfinal appearance in the FCS playoffs. A lot of that success had to do with the play of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the 2012 Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Heinicke, now a junior, has continued to put up huge numbers in the passing game, completing 71.6 percent of his throws in 2013, for 3,892 yards, with 32 touchdowns against just eight interceptions.
The receiving corps is headlined by the potent one-two punch of juniors Larry Pinkard (65 receptions, 972 yards, nine TDs) and Antonio Vaughan (59 receptions, 841 yards, nine TDs).
At almost 380 yards per game through the air, the pass is obviously the top mode of travel for the ODU offense. However, the ground game has been effective at times as well at 153.6 yards per game. Senior Colby Goodwyn (426 yards, 11 TDs) and junior Cam Boyd (420 yards, five TDs) lead the way, with Heinicke (339 yards, five TDs) showing some skill in that regard as well.
While the ODU offense has thrived, the defense has struggled at times, especially with FBS competition. The Monarchs are allowing just under 30 points per game this year (29.8) on 427.7 yards of total offense.
Despite the poor numbers, there have been some standout performers on the defensive side of the ball for Old Dominion. Sophomore safety Fellonte Misher has made plays all over the field and leads the team in tackles (85), with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries to his credit. Freshman linebacker Richie Staton is third on the team in tackles (67), but leads the way in TFL (10.5) and sacks (4).
The Tar Heels have had to make a change under center with the season-ending injury to Bryn Renner, but UNC has rallied behind Marquise Williams and seems poised for a strong finish. Unlike Renner, who threw the ball all over the field, Williams is more of a dual-threat, and has actually led the team in rushing in four of the last six games and currently leads the ground game with 326 yards and four TDs. The offense has shown more balance as a result and is now putting up 402.0 yards per game.
Despite a drop off in passing yards from Renner to Williams, North Carolina still possesses some real talent in the receiving corps, headlined by All- American candidate Eric Ebron at tight end. The 6-4, 245-pound junior leads UNC in receptions (49) and receiving yards (763) with three TDs. Sophomore wideout Quinshad Davis (41 receptions, 568 yards, eight TDs) gives the team a real threat on the outside.
The defensive numbers aren't impressive for North Carolina this season, with the team allowing 4-6 yards per game, including 179.2 yards rushing, but the unit has increased its play during the win streak and is playing much better in the second half of the season.
One reason for that is star end Kareem Martin. The 6-6, 265-pound senior is having a banner year and is second on the team in tackles (66), while pacing the squad with 16.0 TFL, 9.0 sacks and one fumble recovery. Sophomore middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer leads the squad in stops (76).
Old Dominion has some serious talent on both sides of the ball, but isn't quote ready to make an FBS splash with an upset of a BCS Conference program. North Carolina may have started slow, but the Tar Heels are making up for lost time and should earn their bowl eligibility with a win here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 37, Old Dominion 17
11/21 13:32:27 ET