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Thursday NCAA – UNC vs. Miami

Thursday Night College Football – North Carolina at Miami

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes from the ACC in a matchup many figured would be a key game in the ACC Coastal standings. Neither team has the record they hoped for heading into the final week of September but both teams remain without a loss in conference play, with the winner of this game remaining a threat in the quest to reach the ACC Championship.

Match-up: North Carolina Tar Heels at Miami Hurricanes

Venue: At Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 27, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Miami -18, Over/Under 55

Last Meeting: 2017, Miami (-21) 24, at North Carolina 19

After winning 10 games in a row to start last season and reaching #2 in the polls, the Hurricanes closed last season with three straight defeats and Mark Richt’s squad lost in the 2018 opener despite being considered a top 10 caliber team in the opening polls. The Hurricanes weren’t overly competitive in that 33-17 defeat against LSU in Arlington but have since rallied to reach 3-1 ahead of this week’s ACC opener.

The big storyline is the quarterback decision Richt faces this week. Senior Malik Rosier led the team to great success last season with a 3,000-yard passing season while also rushing for nearly 500 yards. He had 26 touchdowns last season but also 14 interceptions and completed only 54 percent of his passes. Rosier had two interceptions in the opening loss to LSU but had played well the previous two games with wins over FCS Savannah State and Toledo. Last week Rosier was benched after Miami failed to score on the first two possessions hosting Florida International, even though he attempted only three passes.

Taking over was freshman N’Kosi Perry, a taller and quicker Ocala product that played well in mop-up action against Savannah State. Perry was sharp with 68 percent completions in relief against FIU, leading an eventual 31-17 win in a game Miami controlled with a 31-0 edge before allowing late scoring. Perry does have two interceptions in his 39 pass attempts but also six touchdown passes with a much higher completion rate than Rosier has featured. He didn’t take meaningful snaps in either of Miami’s road games however and it will be a quick turnaround with the Thursday game and less practice time with the first team if Perry is indeed starting against North Carolina as most expect.

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Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have provided a strong rushing presence for the Hurricanes as although each has just one rushing touchdown, they have combined for 500 yards with productive averages. Jeff Thomas has been the big play threat in the passing game with a whopping 315 receiving yards on only 12 catches as Miami’s offense can remain capable with either quarterback.

Miami became a national phenomenon last season with the turnover chain and this season the Hurricanes have been formidable on pass defense with four interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to just a 49 percent completion rate. Miami has been among the elite rush defenses in the nation with just 2.1 yards per rush allowed in four games with run defense a consistent area of strength since Richt took over. Miami has an even turnover margin on the season and the only defensive touchdown of the season came on a blocked punt and it was also in the fourth quarter of a FCS game that was 56-0 at the time.

North Carolina was in the summer headlines for the wrong reasons with a shoe selling scandal with 13 players ultimately suspended for various lengths staggered over the start of the season. Last season’s passing leader sophomore Chazz Surratt was among those with a four-game suspension, effectively handing the quarterback competition win to junior Nathan Elliott after they split time last season.

The suspension for Surratt is now over even through just three games as the cancelled game with UCF did count. Elliott has been named the starter this week coming off a fine performance in a win over Pittsburgh last weekend. He threw for 313 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns leading North Carolina’s first win 38-35. That performance was needed after a four interception season debut at California while also struggling in the loss to East Carolina.

The 0-2 start was a surprise for a Tar Heels team that many expected to compete in the Coastal race. The Tar Heels were a disappointment at 3-9 last season but the team played well in the season’s final month and now with the roster more completely intact this is a team that is a threat to make noise in the division race. North Carolina has leaned on Antonio Williams in the ground game with 6.6 yards per carry, so far unseating Jordon Brown who was the team’s top rusher last season.

Run defense has been an area of concern with 4.8 yards per carry surrendered but the Tar Heels have been fairly tough on opposing quarterbacks with four interceptions for the defense along with only three passing touchdowns allowed. After being -4 in turnovers in the opener the Tar Heels are even since but the defense has allowed over 900 yards in the past two games after holding California to fewer than 300 yards in the opener.

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These teams were on opposite ends of the standings in a late October game in Chapel Hill last season with Miami ranked #8 nationally and undefeated playing as a road favorite vs. a then 1-7 North Carolina team that was 0-5 in ACC play. The Tar Heels competed well with a 7-6 game at the half before Miami went for 78 yards on its first offensive snap in the third quarter. North Carolina still only trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter and had the ball back down five in the final minutes before losing a fumble in Miami territory. The production numbers were similar with North Carolina actually featuring a slight yardage edge but also four turnovers.

This spread suggests the gap between these programs has closed a bit since last season and this is potentially a dangerous date on the schedule for Miami with the Florida State game up next weekend. All eyes will be on Perry in his most significant test with Richt putting himself open to criticism as Rosier has won a lot of games for the Hurricanes. Perry might provide the best hope for an ACC title shot however with this game a big step in the season goals for both teams.

Historical Trends: North Carolina has covered in nine of the last 14 meetings including in each of the past three seasons, winning S/U in 2015 and 2016 before a five-point loss last season. Miami is just 3-8 ATS as a favorite in this series since 2004 but most of the failures in this series have been in Chapel Hill where Miami has covered once in seven tries. Since 2002 Miami is just 31-48 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points including going 22-36 ATS in Miami and going 3-6 ATS since the start of last season in that role. North Carolina is 13-8-1 ATS in road games since 2014 while going 10-8 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007. Only twice since 2007 has North Carolina been an underdog of 17 or more points and both instances came in the span of week last season with contrasting results with a 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech and the five-point loss hosting Miami.

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Free MLB Pick Monday

#951 St. Louis Cardinals (Weaver) -145 over Miami Marlins (Chen) 6:10 PM CT

With a managerial change and trading or releasing a few prominent players the Cardinals appeared to be content to play for next season but St. Louis is only four games out of the second wild card spot in the National League. Luke Weaver is 6-9 with a 4.75 ERA to fail to meet high expectations that grew after great numbers in 10 starts last season. Weaver has a much lower FIP than his ERA however he possesses steady strikeout and walk counts. Since a brutal start hosting the Braves in late June Weaver has put together a good recent run of outings with a 3.38 ERA in his last five starts. Weaver has pitched better in his road starts and Miami has some of the worst offensive numbers in baseball.

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After a nice mid-summer stretch the Marlins are back in the NL East basement with losses in six straight games and 10 of the past 13. Miami has a .619 team OPS in the past 20 games, averaging just over 3.6 runs per game. The Cardinals meanwhile have a solid .758 team OPS the past 23 games, averaging more than 4.8 runs per contest. St. Louis has also been a dramatically superior hitting team vs. left-handed pitching this season. Wei-Yin Chen has been erratic in 17 starts this season but he ultimately owns a 5.86 ERA with a low strikeout rate and an above average walk rate. He had a marginal four-inning start against the Cardinals earlier this season and while his home numbers are good, a win in his most recent home start was his first since April in Miami.

The Marlins have one of the worst bullpens in baseball and over the past 10 games St. Louis has a 1.58 ERA for relievers compared to a 7.24 bullpen ERA for the Marlins. In that span St. Louis is batting .354 vs. left-handed pitching as the road favorite price looks worth the risk fading the slumping Marlins tonight.

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Free MLB Pick Thursday

#960 San Diego Padres (Lyles) -135 over Miami Marlins (Chen) 8:10 PM CT

Jordan Lyles has mixed results in four starts since moving to the rotation from the bullpen for the Padres with two excellent outings and two marginal outings. Both of his home starts have been excellent with just six hits and one earned run allowed in more than 12 innings of work. Lyles has a 4.51 FIP overshadowing his 3.83 ERA but at Petco Park his ERA is just 1.85 with opponents batting .182 against him.

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The Padres stole a win in the ninth inning last night for a second straight win in this series and Miami has the NL’s second worst record with a 10-17 road mark as well. Miami averages just 3.4 runs per game as baseball lowest scoring team and the bullpen edge for the Padres is severe. The Marlins own a 5.80 bullpen ERA on the season with that figure climbing to 7.33 the past 10 games.

Wei-Yin Chen has only made 33 starts since joining the Marlins in 2016, coming off a great run in 2014 and 2015 for the Orioles. Chen has a 5.22 ERA in six starts this season and his FIP of 6.39 suggests things could be even worse as Chen has benefitted from a .233 BABIP. He has thrown well in his past three starts but only once has he cleared six innings this season and a very high walk rate is a concern in a ball game that isn’t likely to feature a great deal of runs.

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Free NBA Pick Wednesday

#508 Atlanta Hawks +8.5 over Miami Heat 6:35 PM CT

The Heat lead a three-way tie for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, coming off narrowly defeating the Hawks last night. In a true home-and-home the Heat are in Atlanta tonight and this is a Miami team with one S/U win in the past 12 road games going back to late January. Miami has a great ATS road record for the season but those wins have come almost exclusively as an underdog, going 4-5 ATS on the season as a road favorite with this line set to be the biggest road favorite price of the season for the Heat.

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Atlanta has one of the NBA’s worst records but 16 of the team’s 22 wins have come at home. The host is 3-0 in this series this season and the Hawks were -1.5 when they won by six hosting the Heat earlier this season for a dramatic line swing. Atlanta has a limited roster right now with the loss of a few key players but it is a hungry group ready for the opportunity and playing hard for four quarters.

Miami is 6-14-1 ATS on the season when laying 5 or more points this season and the Hawks won the rebounding battle last night while keeping the turnover count close. Miami shot just 42 percent and only had 11 points at the line but they lost by just three points. The Heat is only playing nine right now as playing on back-to-back nights could be a challenge. Atlanta is 8-5-1 ATS this season playing on back-to-back nights and Miami has far more prominent games remaining in the season’s final three games after this contest.

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Free NCAA Pick Monday

#704 Notre Dame -4.5 over Miami, FL 6:00 PM CT

Miami appears to be a NCAA Tournament team right now but the Hurricanes have dropped three in a row to put that prospect in question, heading into a critical road game. Miami is 18-8 overall and 7-7 in ACC play but the profile isn’t obviously stronger than Notre Dame’s despite the Irish clearly being on the outside of the March Madness picture right now. While Notre Dame has three top 100 wins outside of ACC play Miami has just one and that is a win vs. mid-major Middle Tennessee State.

Miami has seven ACC wins compared to six for Notre Dame but two of those wins came against lowly Pittsburgh, a team Notre Dame is yet to play. Injuries were a big factor in Notre Dame losing seven games in a row in the middle of the ACC season but Matt Farrell missed four of those losses while the Irish also had to adjust to losing Bonzie Colson and D.J. Harvey to injury. Notre Dame has won the past two home games and is 4-3 at home in ACC play. The losses came by one against North Carolina, in double-OT vs. Louisville and by five against Virginia Tech, all respectable defeats against teams that rate stronger than Miami and Farrell missed two of those games. Notre Dame should be favored in the next three games as the Irish has a chance to make a late case for the tournament and they will have a crack at a major upset in the finale playing at Virginia ahead of the ACC Tournament as this team hasn’t given up hope yet.

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Miami has played one of the weaker ACC schedule and is the much lesser offensive team in this matchup while the defensive numbers are closer than one would expect. Miami is one of the worst 3-point shooting and free throw shooting teams in the ACC as they won’t be in position to take advantage of the defensive liabilities for the Irish. Every Miami loss has been a game decided by 10 or fewer points as the Hurricanes are often an appealing underdog but Notre Dame is in position to peak late in the season and this is a favorable opportunity for a team with a much higher ceiling than the season numbers suggest.

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Free NBA Pick Monday

#710 Dallas Mavericks +2 over Miami Heat 7:35 PM CT

In short order Miami has climbed from out of the playoffs to the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a 10-4 run since late December. This could be a dangerous game following a narrow Saturday win over surging Charlotte and with a road date in Cleveland up next, with the Cavaliers the next team ahead of the Heat in the standings and with obviously some history between the players and coaches.

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Dallas had a brutal 2-14 start to the season before playing pretty well in late November and December. The Mavericks are 1-6 in the past seven games however but in that run there is an overtime loss and two other defeats by three and two points, with both of those misses at Denver. It has been a tough run in the schedule with playoff teams in the past six games despite mostly competitive games and the lone win was an emphatic win over the Wizards. Dallas is 10-17 S/U at home and actually 9-9 S/U the past 18 home dates while riding a 10-8 ATS run in those games.

The Heat are 4-6 ATS the last 10 games as a road favorite and Miami’s overall schedule rates as one of the weakest in the NBA. Dallas has as many top 10 wins as Miami despite the contrast in stature between the teams in the standings. The host has won four of the last five in this series and Dallas is 18-11 ATS vs. winning teams this season including 8-4 ATS in home games vs. those quality teams.

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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#102 Miami, OH -7 over Akron 6:30 PM CT

Hopes of being the MAC East champion ended last week for Miami, losing at Ohio Tuesday night despite posting 448 yards on one of the MAC’s better defenses. The Redhawks need to win out to return to a bowl game, something they did last season after starting 0-6. Akron is tied with Ohio at 4-1 in the MAC East with the upcoming head-to-head game likely to determine the title.

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Akron blasted Miami 35-13 last season although the Zips only had 299 yards in that game. Gus Ragland could return for the Redhawks although Billy Bahl has shown improvement the past two weeks and Miami is a promising threat against a Zips squad that is posting just 3.5 yards per rush this season with Miami also having a better run defense.

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In five MAC games Miami has outscored Akron by five points despite the contrasting records and Akron has been out-gained in all five road games despite winning two of those games. The big win over Western Michigan featured a production deficit of 211 yards for the Zips and recall that Saturday game was delayed to Sunday to create an unusual situation.

FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff and an injury-depleted Ball State team are the only teams Akron has had more yardage against while Miami has out-gained seven of nine foes this season including all five MAC opponents. Even Notre Dame only had an edge of 126 yards against the Redhawks as this team has a high ceiling despite some tough breaks this season with injuries and defensive scores allowed. This should be a great opportunity for Miami to snap a four-game slide in this series regardless of who is at quarterback.

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