Beats' picks: Can Duke football upset No. 24 North Carolina's high-flying offense on the road?

Running back Jordan Waters stiff arms a Wake Forest defender in Duke's bowl-clinching win.
Running back Jordan Waters stiff arms a Wake Forest defender in Duke's bowl-clinching win.

Duke heads to Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill Saturday night for a clash with hated rival No. 24 North Carolina, hoping to claim the Victory Bell for the first time since 2017. The Chronicle's beat writers are here with their predictions about whether the Blue Devils can get the job done on the road:

Andrew Long: North Carolina 27-10

If you asked me at the start of the year whether the Blue Devils could take down the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, I would have said yes. But a string of injuries — chief among them to quarterback Riley Leonard — has entirely derailed Duke’s offensive efficiency, and I’m no longer confident in the Blue Devils to be able to put up enough points to compete with North Carolina’s high-flying offense. Drake Maye is a genuine Heisman contender and a likely top-two pick in the NFL Draft, and combined with the receiving talents of the now-eligible Devontez Walker and ground-and-pound ability of running back Omarion Hampton, the Tar Heels will hurl everything they have at their Tobacco Road rivals.

For the most part, I still think Duke’s defense, as it has all year, continues to make plays Saturday night and will give the offense opportunities. The question, instead, is if the Blue Devils can compete with a receiving corps playing well below its ceiling and a quarterback in true freshman Grayson Loftis making just his second-ever start. All that together, and there are too many “ifs” for me to feel resolute in picking the Blue Devils to cover — let alone win.

Rachael Kaplan: North Carolina 30-13

The Victory Bell isn’t returning to Durham just yet. While Loftis did get the job done against Wake Forest, the freshman went 7-for-19 for only 86 yards through the air. While the Tar Heel defense is nothing to call home about, the job is always made easier by a rookie quarterback who has yet to prove himself. The offense is depleted — there’s no way around that — and the Blue Devil rushing attack needs left tackle Graham Barton in the game to be at its best. With ACC passing leader Maye taking the snaps for North Carolina, even with Duke’s best-in-the-conference red-zone defense, Loftis and company just won’t be able to put up enough points to truly compete. 

Ranjan Jindal: North Carolina 30-20 

At the beginning of the year, I thought this would be a good chance for Duke to get an upset on the road, simply because of North Carolina’s defensive woes and the Blue Devils’ ability to turn the ball over. I still think this could be closer than the 12.5-point spread, but Duke’s offense has not been nearly as explosive as last year. This is an abysmal Tar Heel secondary that Loftis can move the ball against, and he showed his ability to throw downfield at the end of the Wake Forest game. If the Blue Devils are going to win, his connections with the wide receivers will be essential. On the other side of the ball, while Maye is still prone to risky throws, he has really improved his decision-making over the course of the season. All that said, North Carolina is just too much offensively for the Blue Devils to keep up with, so I see the Tar Heels winning a close one. 

Dom Fenoglio: North Carolina 27-16

In a rivalry game like this one, you can throw out rankings, postseason implications and betting lines. However, you can’t discount injuries, and Duke remains hampered. I think this game will remain close throughout, but without Leonard under center, I don’t think the Blue Devils can pull away in the fourth quarter in Chapel Hill. The defense will show up, and may even turn over Maye a few times, but ultimately I think Duke will have to wait another year to bring home the Victory Bell.

Caleb Dudley: North Carolina 28-20

There’s nothing better than a battle for the Victory Bell. Duke is obviously shorthanded, especially at the quarterback position, but the Blue Devils are still a very good football team. The offensive line will likely welcome back key cogs Jacob Monk and Barton, giving the offense a chance to reestablish a run game that has been dominant at times this season. But ultimately, I do not think a Loftis-led Duke team has the firepower to compete with the high-flying Tar Heels on offense, and Duke will drop a close one on the road to extend its drought against North Carolina to five years. 

Micah Hurewitz: North Carolina 35-14

Duke has not beaten its counterpart at Kenan Stadium since 2017. I think that streak will stay alive, and while I was impressed by the Blue Devils’ victory last week given their injury situation, playing from behind is not going to win a game against the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils, as 12.5-point underdogs, will need a sharp game from Loftis and a strong run game to keep the offense flowing and unpredictable, while the defense will already have its hands full against Maye and his many weapons out wide. Duke will truly have to score early and often to make this a ballgame. The Tar Heels have looked like a totally different team over their past few ACC contests — especially defensively as they have allowed 31 and 46 points to Virginia and Georgia Tech, respectively — but they are still a talented bunch in great shape to keep the Victory Bell.

Records:

Long: 4-2

Kaplan: 5-1

Jindal: 4-2

Fenoglio: 5-1

Dudley: 4-2

Hurewitz: 5-1


Micah Hurewitz

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



Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity senior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Beats' picks: Can Duke football upset No. 24 North Carolina's high-flying offense on the road?” on social media.