In coach Larry Fedora’s first season at North Carolina, his team won seven of its final nine regular-season games. The trend repeated last season, when the Tar Heels won six of their last seven games after a 1-5 start.
North Carolina started slowly again this season, going 2-3 straight up and 0-5 against the spread. But during a fourth straight loss, Oct. 11 at Notre Dame, something changed.
For starters, the Tar Heels covered the spread for the first time in a 50-43 loss to the Irish as 16½-point underdogs. Even in defeat, Fedora’s team regained confidence, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Marquise Williams produced 458 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
Two weeks ago, North Carolina knocked off Georgia Tech 48-43 behind Williams’ 390 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Tar Heels improved to 2-2 in Atlantic Coast Conference play by going to Virginia and rallying for a 28-27 win as 7-point underdogs. Now they control their own destiny to get to the ACC title game.
To do so, North Carolina will have to win today at Miami. The oddsmakers don’t like those chances, as the Hurricanes were 17-point favorites early this week. The number is down to 15, but the line is still too high.
During coach Al Golden’s tenure, the Hurricanes have struggled to a 5-9 spread record in 14 games as double-digit favorites.
North Carolina has won outright over Miami in four of the past seven meetings, with the past three encounters decided by six points or fewer. I’m on the Tar Heels as double-digit underdogs in a game they can win.
Five more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ MISSISSIPPI STATE (-10½) over Arkansas — During coach Dan Mullen’s six-year tenure, Mississippi State has thrived as a home favorite, posting a 16-8 spread record. Everyone talks about quarterback Dak Prescott, and rightfully so, but running back Josh Robinson is playing like an All-American. He has rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. I made the Bulldogs 14½-point favorites, so I’m confident this is quality line value.
■ SOUTH CAROLINA (-6) over Tennessee — This is a big revenge game for the Gamecocks, who lost 23-21 on a last-second field goal last year in Knoxville. Even though South Carolina fell to 4-4 in a 42-35 loss at Auburn last week, it was clear this team is still playing hard and with lots of emotion. And, just in case anyone forgot, coach Steve Spurrier can still draw up some dynamite plays. The Volunteers are 2-5 ATS in seven games as road underdogs for coach Butch Jones.
■ Tennessee-SOUTH CAROLINA (Over 55) — In five of South Carolina’s six Southeastern Conference games, it has seen combined scores of 80, 73, 82, 83 and 77 points. This is the Gamecocks’ third-lowest total all season. They had totals of 54½ and 52 in games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and those contests flew over the totals.
■ Arizona (+6½) over UCLA — The Wildcats won all three of their road games this season and would be unbeaten if not for their place-kicking problems in a 28-26 home loss to Southern California. Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon has been sensational in coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense, throwing 20 touchdown passes to four interceptions.
UCLA has been abysmal for our purposes, limping to a 1-7 spread record. The Bruins are 1-2 straight up and 0-3 against the spread at home. I made this game a pick-em and love the Wildcats as underdogs. I’ll also be getting a small taste of Arizona on the money line for a plus-220 return
■ OREGON (-8) over Stanford — This is a double-revenge spot for Oregon, which has dropped back-to-back games to Stanford. But this version of the Cardinal isn’t as stout. The defense isn’t nearly as salty, and quarterback Kevin Hogan has not executed in the biggest games.
Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota finally threw his first interception of the year last week, but he’s still sporting an incredible 24-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.