No. 17 Tar Heels close in on ACC division title, face Miami
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina has spent the past two months building momentum and confidence in a climb to the top of its Atlantic Coast Conference division standings.
The No. 17 Tar Heels could soon have a ticket to the league championship game, too.
UNC faces Miami in its home finale Saturday in search of a ninth straight win. A win against the Hurricanes along with a Pittsburgh loss at Duke - a game that kicks off 3 1/2 hours earlier - would send the Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 ACC, No. 23 CFP) to the ACC title game to face top-ranked Clemson.
Don't bother asking UNC coach Larry Fedora about keeping up with the Pitt-Duke result in the hours leading up to kickoff in Chapel Hill. He says he won't do it.
''I know what we're playing for,'' Fedora said. ''I mean, you're not going to get me into that. We're playing Miami, that's it.''
The Tar Heels are the only unbeaten team in the Coastal Division standings, and hold head-to-head tiebreakers with Pitt (4-1) and Duke (3-2). Beating the Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) would keep them in firm control of the division, regardless of what happens elsewhere.
As linebacker Shakeel Rashad put it: ''We're going to go out and try to win our game either way, so I don't think it'll be a problem with people focusing at all.''
The Hurricanes came into the season with the goal of winning the Coastal; the only way that quest stays alive is with a win on Saturday. Oddsmakers say they have very little shot, prompting quarterback Brad Kaaya to point out that the Hurricanes were in that exact position two weeks ago at Duke - where they won on an eight-lateral kickoff return for a final-play touchdown.
''So we're like 11, 12-point underdogs,'' Kaaya said. ''I think we were like 13 or something against Duke. It is what it is.''
Here are some other things to know about Saturday's Miami-UNC matchup:
UNBEATEN SCOTT: Miami interim coach Larry Scott will try to become just the third coach in the last 70 years of Hurricanes' football to start 3-0. Dennis Erickson in 1989 and Larry Coker in 2001 were the only others to do so; they both went on to win national championships in those first seasons.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: UNC's improved defense under coordinator Gene Chizik didn't play well in last week's 66-31 win against Duke. Chizik said the team gave up more explosive plays and missed tackles than in any game all year. ''The standard for our defense is certainly not that,'' Chizik said. ''So I think a lot of people were disappointed with the final result of how we played.''
MIAMI MARGIN: The Hurricanes led North Carolina 44-6 at one point in last season's easy win. While there was a time back in the Big East days when seeing Miami have a lead like that wouldn't have been any surprise, it's been a rarity in the Hurricanes' ACC era. The only two conference games in which Miami had a bigger lead since joining the ACC in 2004 were against Wake Forest in 2004 and Duke in 2005; the `Canes won both games by 45 points.
GOING DEEP: UNC quarterback Marquise Williams threw for a program-record 494 yards last week, including three touchdowns of at least 49 yards. UNC's deep receiving corps has given the fifth-year senior a lot of downfield options with plenty of size on the perimeter. ''With those guys,'' Williams said, ''you can do anything.''
THE KICKER: Miami's Michael Badgley came into this weekend's slate of games as the leader among all FBS kickers in the nation with 19 field goals made. And that's not necessarily a good thing. Badgley has 11 field goals from 29 yards or closer, which goes to show how the Hurricanes' offense has struggled in the red zone. According to STATS, Miami has completed 47 percent of its passes in the red zone this season, and its 64 rush attempts from the opponents' 20 or closer have resulted in an average of merely 1.8 yards per carry.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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