Game time: 6 p.m. ET; Sept. 3, 2021
Venue: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
Where to watch: ESPN
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: UNC -5.5; O/U 64; ML: UNC -210, Virginia Tech +175
BetMGM: UNC -5.5; O/U 64.5; ML: UNC -220, Virginia Tech +180
FanDuel: UNC -5.5; O/U 64; ML: UNC -225, Virginia Tech +180
2020 season record
No. 10 North Carolina: 8-4 (7-3) Lost Orange Bowl to Texas A&M
Virginia Tech: 5-6 (5-5)
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UNC - Virginia Tech preview and analysis
Last meeting: UNC won 56-45 on Oct. 10, 2020
The North Carolina Tar Heels are going to be very good this season.
One should go as far as to say they’ll be in the ACC Championship Game at the end of the season, likely opposing the Clemson Tigers.
But where do the Tar Heels stand among a College Football Playoff contender? That’s where the scenery gets murky. But No. 10 North Carolina, led by head coach Mack Brown, has turned UNC into a potential powerhouse.
The Tar Heels will get an early chance to assert their conference dominance in a tough environment; Blacksburg to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in an early-season ACC matchup.
If there’s one area that benefits North Carolina the most this season is a favorable schedule. Eight of the Heels’ games are at home. After they play Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels won’t hit the road again for what could be another pivotal conference matchup against No. 9 Notre Dame.
And while North Carolina may be a darkhorse in a lot of pundits’ thoughts, there are some question marks. One of them doesn’t surround the quarterback position; quarterback Sam Howell returns as a junior after putting up nearly 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, as he was the catalyst behind UNC’s run to the Orange Bowl.
Howell is going to have new faces behind him. Last year’s top tailbacks, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, are now in the NFL, as is last year’s leading receiver Dyami Brown. The backfield now turns to grad transfer Ty Chandler, and the No. 1 target is Dyami’s brother, redshirt sophomore Khafre Brown.
UNC’s ability to recruit has gotten them this far. The Tar Heels received a commitment from defensive tackle Travis Shaw, the No. 1 prospect in the state of North Carolina, giving them seven of ESPN’s 300 recruits for 2022.
It’s going to be a great first test for this UNC offense, traveling to a stadium where defense has always been the calling card. But this is unusual territory for Virginia Tech, coming off a season where they missed a bowl game for the first time in 28 years. Coach Justin Fuente has carried the winning success from Frank Beamer through his first few seasons, but it may be a ways from being championship contenders of the past.
The offense will turn over to Braxton Burmeister after starter Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee. The junior quarterback passed for 687 yards and two touchdowns. After sparring stints the past two years, Virginia Tech will finally see what they have in the native from La Jolla, California.
North Carolina: The Carolina offense was ninth-best in the country last year (41.7 points per game) and while Howell was a main part of that, losing a combined 2,385 rushing yards and nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage from your top two running backs is not an easy feat. It might be an instance where Howell throws a little more this year, even if he did average just over 301 yards per game in 2020.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies also lost their top rusher to the NFL in Khalil Herbert; they’ll need to try and replace nearly 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns for a team that scored 31.1 points per game last season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ defense has potential to be better than the unit that allowed a shade under 30 points per game. Last year’s leading tackler and sack artist Chass Surratt is now with the Minnesota Vikings, but Jeremiah Gemmel returns for his senior year to lead the UNC defense.
Virginia Tech: Defense plays well at home. The most points he Hokies allowed was 45 against Clemson, and 38 against Liberty a month prior. There’s no greater home-field advantage than in Blacksburg, no matter which team comes to town.
That being said, the talent discrepancy is going to be massive. North Carolina should be able to do damage this first week and carry it all the way to what’s expected to be a long, fruitful run in the ACC. Tar Heels win 38-24.
Virginia Tech is 13-5 in the last 18 meetings straight up.
Eleven of the last 17 games have gone under.
Players to watch
UNC: All eyes will be on Sam Howell for this matchup. If he plays well, this should be a good start to his Heisman candidacy.
Virginia Tech: Burmeister will benefit from having Tre Turner returning as his No. 1 receiver. Turner had 529 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Sam Howell -- 3,586 yards, 30 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Michael Carter -- 1,245 yards, 9 TD; Javionte Williams -- 1,140 yards, 19 TD
Receiving: Dyami Brown -- 55 catches, 1,099 yards, 8 TD
Defense: Chazz Surratt -- 91 tackles, 6 sacks
Passing: Hendon Hooker -- 1,339 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Khalil Herbert -- 1,183 yards, 8 TD
Receiving: Tayvion Robinson -- 592 yards, 3 TD
Defense: Amare Barno & Justus Reed -- 6.5 sacks
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