The No. 22 Tar Heels try to build on their surprising start Saturday when they host the Irish, who are looking for a win to propel themselves back into the rankings for the first time in more than a year.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made North Carolina –7.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 61% of bets for this game have been placed on North Carolina –7.5 View College Football bet percentages).
North Carolina (4-1), which was 4-8 last year, broke into the AP poll after beating then-No. 24 Connecticut 38-12 last Saturday. Cameron Sexton, a third-string quarterback to start the season, was 9-of-16 for 117 yards and one touchdown while the defense made three interceptions and the Tar Heels' special teams blocked three punts.
Off to its best start since opening 8-0 in 1997, North Carolina is ranked for the first time since being No. 22 for one week of the 2001 season. That year also marks the last time the Tar Heels finished with a winning record (8-5). They enter Saturday with a chance to win more than four games in a season for the first time since 2005.
"Our kids are doing a great job of keeping things in perspective," coach Butch Davis said. "We're just kind of chipping away, trying to get better every week and trying to play 12 consecutive one-game schedules."
While Davis appears to be turning around the Tar Heels in his second season at the helm, Charlie Weis is trying to rebuild the Irish (4-1) after last year's dismal 3-9 season.
Notre Dame surpassed its win total from last year with a 28-21 victory over Stanford last Saturday, but that still wasn't enough to get the team back in the Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2006 season.
It's the first time in 28 occasions the Irish have started a season with only one loss through five games and still been unranked.
"I think we're on the cusp," Weis said. "I can't worry about the polls, but you go beat North Carolina at North Carolina, I'd say the odds are you'll be in the Top 25 next week."
Weis must find a way to slow down the Tar Heels' rejuvenated offense.
Sexton will continue to lead that unit after making his first start since 2006 last Saturday after taking over for an ineffective Mike Paulus the previous week. Paulus had been starting in place of T.J. Yates, who remains sidelined due to a broken ankle suffered last month.
Sexton also received some support last week from Shaun Draughn, a converted safety who rushed for a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Draughn, given just 25 carries through the first four games, could be the spark needed for a Tar Heels ground game which had been held to a combined 138 yards on 65 attempts in the previous two contests. The sophomore is the team's only running back to surpass 71 yards in a game this season.
"This team is headed in the right direction," Sexton told the Tar Heels' official Web site. "All the pieces are in place. ... But we did not come here to win four games. We're not where we want to be. The only thing we have to do as a team is to remain focused."
Weis, meanwhile, is looking for a more well-rounded victory this weekend after quarterback Jimmy Clausen went 29-of-40 for 347 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday against the Cardinal. The Irish ran for only 83 yards in that win and are averaging 103.6 per game for the season, compared to 249.6 passing.
"If you become a one-dimensional team, eventually you're going to get hurt. Especially when you're ineffective on third-and-1," Weis said. "You have to be able to run the football and you definitely need to be more productive on third-and-1 than we've been."
Although he's concerned about the depth of the offense, Weis has to be pleased with the large improvement it's shown since last season when it finished last in the nation with 242.3 yards per game. Clausen has keyed the offensive resurgence and has been particularly good the past two weeks, throwing for 622 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
Notre Dame's lone loss in 17 all-time meetings with North Carolina came in 1960 at Chapel Hill. The only time these teams have met since 1975 was the Irish's 45-26 home win in 2006, their sixth straight victory in the series.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
N CAROLINA is 1-0 against the spread versus NOTRE DAME since 1992
NOTRE DAME is 1-0 straight up against N CAROLINA since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
N CAROLINA is 1-0 against the spread versus NOTRE DAME over the last 3 seasons
NOTRE DAME is 1-0 straight up against N CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries:
[TE] Luke Schmidt is downgraded to out indefinitely - Headache - 09/30/08
[TE] Mike Ragone expected to miss the entire season - ACL - 08/22/08
[TE] Will Yeatman missed last game %27?%27 - Legal problems - 09/27/08
[CB] Darrin Walls has left the school. - Personal - 08/22/08
[S] Jashaad Gaines out indefinitely - Personal - 09/20/08
(!) [QB] TJ Yates is expected to miss at least 6 weeks. - Ankle - 09/22/08
[QB] Cameron Sexton is expected to start. - None - 09/30/08
[DE] Darrius Massenburg missed last game %27?%27 - Knee - 09/25/08
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