Just when it seems like things couldn’t get much better for No. 10 Wake Forest, along comes Saturday afternoon’s game at North Carolina.
Even though two Atlantic Coast Conference teams are colliding, this is a non-conference game in Chapel Hill, N.C. The stakes are high nonetheless.
“Right now we’re 8-0 and on top of the world,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “If we don’t refocus, we’ll get humbled.”
Wake Forest holds a Top 10 ranking for the first time in program history. The Demon Deacons are 8-0 for the first time. The program also entered the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season Tuesday night at No. 9.
“I don’t think we get the respect we deserve,” receiver Jaquarii Roberson said. “We just have to keep pushing.”
North Carolina (4-4) began the season with a No. 10 national ranking. The Tar Heels have been inconsistent, though they led then-No. 11 Notre Dame in the second half last week before falling.
“You don’t salvage a season,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “You do the best you can.”
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has been on a roll as he has been named ACC Quarterback of the Week the past two weeks. He’s the first quarterback in Wake Forest history to have four straight games with 300 or more passing yards. In those four games, he has totaled 13 touchdown throws with two interceptions.
Keeping it going is the task. Wake Forest is 7-11 in November the last five seasons. The Demon Deacons have never won more than two games in November under Clawson.
“I think we’re a good football team, but can still play better,” Clawson said. “That’s part of what makes it exciting.”
North Carolina’s Sam Howell is on a record pace for the Tar Heels. The junior quarterback became the program’s all-time leader in passing yards in Saturday night’s loss at Notre Dame.
“It was one of the best performances he’s ever had,” Brown said. “He had the one bad play. So he’s the all-time passing leader now in North Carolina history, he’s the all-time leader in touchdowns responsible for (with 101), and he only needs 239 yards the rest of the season to surpass Marquise Williams as the all-time leader in total yards.”
Howell had a huge outing last year against Wake Forest in a comeback from 21 points down in the second half. He threw for 550 yards and six touchdowns in North Carolina’s 59-53 home victory.
With its non-league tag, this game is a tricky assignment for both teams.
Wake Forest will need to win in order to enter the conversation for a College Football Playoff bid. Yet its quest for an ACC title might hinge on the result next week in the home finale against North Carolina State.
North Carolina could be in danger of failing to qualify for a bowl, so this outcome is vital. But the Tar Heels still have a chance to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, with a quick turnaround coming for Thursday night’s game at Pittsburgh.
The teams also met in a 2019 non-league game in order to avoid gaps in the series between in-state teams that aren’t in the same ACC divisions. They weren’t supposed to meet last year, but a revised pandemic-related schedule created an ACC matchup.
–Field Level Media