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Beats' picks: Will Duke football take back Victory Bell from North Carolina?

The Victory Bell will be at stake Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Victory Bell will be at stake Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Before every game this season, our football beat writers predict whether the Blue Devils will pick up a win in their weekly matchup and keep track of their records throughout the year. After a crushing loss in overtime at Georgia Tech, Duke now gets a shot against its fiercest rival, North Carolina, at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Jonathan Levitan: North Carolina 30-26

Regardless of the outcome at Georgia Tech, Duke is in the same class as North Carolina. Six weeks ago, that alone might have seemed an accomplishment for the Blue Devils, but expectations have changed in Durham. Two wins away from bowl eligibility, there is a clear sense of urgency heading into Saturday.

To beat this season’s Tar Heels, you have to be ready for a shootout, and I cannot say with total confidence that the Blue Devils—who are banged up at the running back, wide receiver and guard positions—will be able to punish North Carolina’s leaky defense as they might otherwise. With some red-zone struggles and a real challenge in freshman quarterback Drake Maye, it looks to me as if the Victory Bell is staying put.

Micah Hurewitz: North Carolina 42-21

This has all the makings of a shootout with the delightful quarterback play from each of the Tobacco Road rivals. Maye has launched himself into the upper echelon of the Heisman Trophy conversation and has his team at 5-1 despite a few close calls in each of its road trips against Appalachian State, Georgia State and Miami. Regardless, Duke enters this week with several star offensive players banged up and may not be able to string together the methodical drives it has proven capable of this season, but again, it is the dreadful North Carolina defense the Blue Devils are up against. Although Duke will look to rebound from its ice-cold start against Georgia Tech and bring some magic to Wallace Wade Stadium, head coach Mack Brown’s squad is in town with the Victory Bell already painted their shade of blue and a trip to a bowl game on the line.

Sasha Richie: North Carolina 34-28

The Victory Bell may have to stay in Chapel Hill for one more year. For as much progress as the Blue Devils have made, North Carolina remains a formidable if not insurmountable opponent. Maye leads pretty much every quarterback stat, and frankly, Duke fans will have to face the music that the Tar Heels will score a lot of points Saturday. However, by the same token, Duke has made enough progress to also put up a lot of points against a paltry North Carolina defense, just slightly fewer than its opponent. The Tar Heels have likely progressed past the days of giving up three-plus touchdowns to mid-major and FCS teams, but they still let Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke throw for just short of 500 yards last weekend and gave up almost as many yards of total offense to the Hurricanes as Bethune-Cookman did. Even if they have improved, the Tar Heels still have some glaring holes that Duke can exploit to make this one closer than one might expect.

Andrew Long: North Carolina 35-17

As much as the optimist in me wants to believe that the Blue Devils can continue their renaissance against the Tar Heels, this feels like the wrong game at the wrong time for Duke. Its overtime loss at Georgia Tech was miraculous in one way and heartbreaking in another, chock-full of injuries and uncharacteristic offensive clunkiness from Leonard and on the ground. Against North Carolina, the crowds at Wallace Wade Stadium and Elko’s never-say-die coaching will keep this one close at stretches, but the Tar Heels are on a tear right now and I see the Victory Bell ringing for Duke's noisy neighbors for a fourth year running.

Rachael Kaplan: North Carolina 42-32

While I think that Duke has more of a chance this year than last in the Tobacco Road rivalry, it is not an even fight just yet. Maye has more than 1,900 passing yards for the Tar Heels in just six games. He has completed just under 70% of his passes and thrown for 21 touchdowns, making him third in the nation. It will be the Blue Devils' tallest defensive task since they lost to Jalon Daniels and the Jayhawks. It will be up to Leonard to overcome North Carolina’s offensive attack. While the Tar Heels are ranked 107th nationally in defensive efficiency, Leonard is coming off of his worst performance of the year against Georgia Tech: His QBR was just 48.1 and he completed less than half of his passes. While I do think he will bounce back from the disappointing showing, asking him to outshine Maye might be too much to ask of the sophomore. 

Franck Djidjeu: Duke 41-38

For the first time in ages, the Duke-North Carolina rivalry football game is one to get up for. These historically dominant basketball schools come in a combined 9-3, top-two in win percentage among the ACC Coastal Division. So, beyond the cross-town rivalry, this could be the most important game of the season in determining who represents the division in the ACC championship game. The Tar Heels have an intimidating offense that ranks first in the conference and their strength in the air is Duke’s Achilles heel on defense. However, they also have the ACC’s worst-ranked defense and face a Duke team capable of stringing together impressive runs, particularly at home–where they are undefeated and average 39 points per game. Expect this to be a shootout in which the growing intensity of Wallace Wade may make the difference and help Duke end the night celebrating its most monumental win in years. 

Season records:

Levitan: 3-3

Hurewitz: 4-2

Richie: 3-3

Long: 4-2

Kaplan: 4-2

Djidjeu: 3-3

Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Jonathan Levitan | Sports Editor

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

Andrew Long | Blue Zone editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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