North Carolina has been moving up in the polls and by the end of the weekend could clinch the Coastal Division title, securing a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte in December.
That could come Saturday afternoon with a visit to Charlottesville, Va., where many potentially special seasons have been derailed for the Tar Heels through the years.
So if North Carolina (7-1, 4-0 ACC) — ranked 17th in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday — is deserving of some of its renewed status, there’s one good way to back it up.
“Go prove it,” Brown said. “We don’t need scenarios. We need to win. You don’t want to back into the conference championship, you want to be good enough to earn the run… We’ve gone from a team that nobody talked about to one that has got the target on their back.”
UNC heads the ACC’s Coastal Division by two games with four remaining. A victory Saturday would clinch a tie for the division crown, and losses by second-place teams Duke and Miami (both 2-2) would ensure the Tar Heels’ first division title since 2015.
Virginia (3-5, 1-4) is just trying to make some headway under first-year coach Tony Elliott.
The Cavaliers’ defense hasn’t allowed an opposing offense to score a touchdown for the last eight quarters. Last Saturday, they kept Miami out of the end zone, but still lost in overtime. In an epic defensive struggle, the teams each made two field goals in regulation, and two in overtime, and Miami won, 14-12, by scoring on a two-point overtime run.
“They’re getting better every week,” Brown said of the Cavaliers.
Elliott said his players aren’t in the mood to give up on the season, saying, “I think they’re invested in trying to build the foundation of the program.”
Quarterback Brennan Armstrong has been hobbled recently by an ankle injury, but Elliott said, “He’s full speed, full go. He’s a warrior.”
Virginia likely will be without injured leading rusher Perris Jones, so that would mean Mike Hollins and Xavier Brown could carry the load at running back. A good sign for the Cavaliers could be a healthier and deeper offensive line for this week.
North Carolina’s offense hasn’t been a problem as redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye has 29 touchdown passes, matching Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud for most in the nation. Three times he has thrown for five touchdowns in a game.
Maye is coming off season highs for completions (33), pass attempts (44) and yards (388) in a 42-28 comeback against Pitt.
UNC is battered to some degree. Linebacker Noah Taylor is out for the season after suffering an injury last week. Taylor led the Tar Heels in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (6), and the timing is particularly difficult for him — he’s a transfer from Virginia and this would have been a homecoming of sorts.
Defensive lineman Desmond Evans and running back Caleb Hood are also out for the rest of the season.
“It’s the time of the year that these things happen,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. “And we have prepared as the season has gone on depth-wise to be able — if the situations occur — to be able to not be in scramble mode. So we’ll have to move some pieces around.”
Carolina’s 59-39 victory at home last season ended a four-game losing streak to Virginia.
–Field Level Media