North Carolina Tarheels vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Preview and Pick

North Carolina Tarheels (1-0) +5.5 at Rutgers Scarlet Knights -5.5 (0-1)
Thursday, Sep. 11, 7:30 pm ET, Rutgers Stadium – Piscataway, NJ ESPN

By Matt of

The North Carolina Tarheels make the trip to Piscataway on Thursday night to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a non-conference battle. UNC looks to go 2-0 on the early season, while Rutgers will try to avoid ending up in an 0-2 hole. The game kicks off at 7:30 pm ET and can be seen on ESPN. XM radio also carries the game nationally on the satellite dial.

Rutgers opened as a 4.5 point favorite, but can be found a half point in either direction depending on your college football sportsbook of choice. The over/under total for the contest is hanging around 43.5 to 44 and the money line has UNC at +180 with Rutgers at -220.

Both teams are coming off a bye in week two following their respective openers. The Tarheels will pull even with Georgia Tech atop the ACC Coastal Conference with a win and a Scarlet Knights win will have them in a logjam at 1-1 in the Big East.

UNC will be out to break an 0-5 mark against the spread in their last five contests against the Big East as well as improve on a 2-5 ATS mark in their last seven September games. Rutgers is riding a nice 10-2-1 ATS run against non-conference opponents and appear to like the early week games, going 4-1 against the spread in their last five Thursday tilts.

The early season games can be weak predictors in terms of upcoming over/unders, but for what it’s worth, UNC and McNeese St. went for 62 points in their game which was off the board. Rutgers and Fresno St. was a legitimate matchup with the teams putting up 31 points total for an under victory. The over is 5-2 in the last seven UNC v. Big East games and the over has also hit in 5 of the last 6 Rutgers Thursday games.

The Heels will prove a tough test for Rutgers if they can get another stellar performance out of senior wideout Brandon Tate. Tate caught 4 passes for 93 yards, rushed for 106 more and added a TD on an 82 yard punt return in the 35-27 defeat of McNeese St. in Chapel Hill. The Tarheels trailed 21-14 in the third quarter before scoring three straight touchdowns and holding on for the win despite being outgained in total yardage and losing the time of possesion battle. Quarterback T.J. Yates leads the offense for UNC with running back Greg Little and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks rounding out a solid unit. Yates threw for two scores last game and will look to spread the ball around to keep the Rutgers D honest. The Tarheels will need to get off the field on defense to keep down an experienced Rutgers squad.

Rutgers took one on the chin at home on Sept. 1, dropping a 24-7 decision to Fresno State. The game was 0-0 at half before The Bulldogs gained traction and tallied 200+ yards on the ground and through the air on the way to victory. Rutgers is led by its senior QB, Mike Teel, who will be looking to make up for his two INT’s last time out. Running back Kordell Young went over 100 yards from scrimmage and scored the Knight only TD against Fresno with Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood providing dynamic pass targets for Teel. Shutting down Brandon Tate should be priority one for Rutgers on defense in this game.

Both teams should be at full strength coming off the bye week and neither team has a player listed on the injury report.

Matt’s Pick: I think UNC can stay within the spread here and quite possibly even win the game straight up. Good luck!