North Carolina has reached the most important 3-game stretch of its season, as the Tar Heels’ Coastal Division fate will be mostly decided during the coming months.

The Heels have 3 straight games against some other teams emerging as contenders for the Coastal title, and it will start this weekend with a trip to Hard Rock Stadium in south Florida. Carolina will face off with a Miami team that had a world of struggles in nonconference play, but also one that hasn’t played an ACC game yet, either.

The Heels on the other hand are coming off a commanding ACC-opening win against Virginia Tech, as their defense finally decided to show up. Now, the Tar Heels will look to prove that was a trend against a Miami team coming off an ugly loss to Middle Tennessee State 2 weeks ago.

Here’s what to expect:

The Hurricanes

Miami is having a tumultuous season so far, to say the least. The Canes started things off by handling business against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss.

But then in their premiere nonconference game, the Hurricanes did little well in a 17-9 loss at Texas A&M. And Miami followed that with 1 of the more embarrassing losses in program history, as Middle Tennessee State came to Miami and won 45-31.

On paper, Miami still has the pieces to make this season work. The Canes were picked by the media to win the Coastal, and the good news is that games against Middle Tennessee State and Texas A&M don’t affect that.

But there are plenty of causes for concern. At quarterback, Tyler Van Dyke is having a pretty mediocre season, especially compared to his expectations. He was benched against MTSU, though coach Mario Cristobal has given him the vote of confidence and said he’ll start against the Tar Heels.

The Canes also have some injury issues. Top receiver Xavier Restrepo won’t play Saturday, and starting offensive lineman Zion Nelson’s availability is up in the air.

Defensively, Miami has a strong unit that looked fully the part over the first 3 games of the season. But then, Middle Tennessee State put up 45 points and 507 yards against the Canes, and the confidence there is lacking as well.

The season obviously isn’t lost for Miami. The Canes are in the exact same spot they were in at the start of the season in regards to the ACC, but Saturday’s contest against an emerging contender in UNC is an important first step towards a spot in Charlotte, N.C.

The Tar Heels

Well what do you know. The Tar Heels can play some defense. Or maybe Virginia Tech is just that bad with the ball.

The actual answer probably is somewhere in the middle, but last Saturday’s 41-10 victory over the Hokies was a huge step forward for the Heels either way.

Carolina’s defense, which came into that game among the worst in the country, held Virginia Tech to just 273 yards and 3.9 yards per play. The Hokies couldn’t move the ball through the air or on the ground, as the Heels’ defense dominated the battle between 2 of the ACC’s worst units.

Now the question is can Carolina build on it? Miami’s offense certainly offers a much bigger threat than Virginia Tech’s, but it also hasn’t been necessarily explosive during its past 2 games. Maybe the Tar Heels are building in the right direction and can keep it up.

Offensively, the Heels did what everyone has come to expect of them against the Hokies. Drake Maye threw for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for 73 more yards and 2 more scores. Both Omarion Hampton and Caleb Hood averaged 4.6 yards per carry, while Josh Downs had 8 catches for 120 yards to lead a collective effort from the receivers.

Carolina could be a legitimate contender in the Coastal Division. The time has come to prove that.


Miami is a slight favorite in this game, as the Hurricanes are at home and coming off a bye week.

However, Carolina is seemingly trending in the right direction. The Hurricanes not so much. It’s a big game for both teams and the conference as a whole, and it should be a thriller in Miami.

The Tar Heels won’t limit the Hurricanes’ offense like it did Virginia Tech’s, but they do have a chance to do more against Miami than they did against Notre Dame or Appalachian State. On the other side of the ball, there’s nothing about what Miami did against MTSU that suggests the Hurricanes have an answer for the Heels’ attack.

Carolina is going to win this game, setting up a potential battle for the driver’s seat in the Coastal in the Battle for the Victory Bell against Duke next week.

North Carolina 49, Miami 41