Wake Forest has its highest AP Top 25 ranking, the best start in program history and is in the race to reach the College Football Playoff.
Getting there requires the 10th-ranked Demon Deacons to keep winning through a demanding November – starting with Saturday’s unusual matchup against fellow instate Atlantic Coast Conference team North Carolina that won’t count in the league standings.
It marks the second nonconference game between the Demon Deacons (8-0, No. 9 CFP ) and Tar Heels (4-4) in three seasons. It originated from a 2015 agreement to play a home-and-home series outside of ACC play because they don’t meet as often amid the expanded league's scheduling rotation.
This game won’t affect Wake Forest's push for its first ACC title since 2006, but can impact just about everything else in a special season.
“Definitely the temptation’s there,” tight end Brandon Chapman said of getting caught up in the historic start. “We keep reminding each other, put on the blinders. … It’s all about what we believe in and what we think we can do.”
The Tar Heels started the year at No. 10, but enter November trying to become bowl eligible. They’re coming off a loss to No. 8 Notre Dame.
“When you’re playing the No. 10 team in the country, very seldom does the No. 10 team come to your place," UNC coach Mack Brown said. "So what a great opportunity for us."
Some other things to know about Saturday’s Wake Forest-UNC game:
Expect to see the ball flying often.
Wake Forest’s quarterback Sam Hartman is 10th in the Bowl Subdivision in passing (309.4 yards) and ninth in passing touchdowns (22). He has accounted for 11 touchdowns in the past two weeks against Army and Duke.
“He’s in a little groove right now,” UNC defensive back Cam Kelly said.
UNC’s Sam Howell has seen preseason Heisman Trophy hype fade, but he still ranks 13th in FBS with TD passes (19) and 16th in passing (274.0). He’s also rushed for 98 or more yards in five games with six rushing scores.
“Anybody who’s critical of Sam Howell, and how he’s played, hasn’t watched any film on him,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry and North Carolina’s Josh Downs are tied for seventh nationally with eight touchdown catches, while Downs is ranked in the top five in both receiving yards (122.4) and receptions (8.8) per game.
UNC said Downs is the first player nationally with at least eight catches and a touchdown in eight straight games since Fresno State’s Davante Adams – now a Pro Bowler with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers – had nine straight in 2013.
Wake Forest has thrived in a pair of key areas. One is turnover margin, with the Demon Deacons ranking fourth in FBS in turnover margin (plus-10). Another is third-down percentage, where Wake Forest ranks fifth (51.2%).
The Tar Heels are right there in moving the chains (tied for seventh at 49.5%), but have merely broken even on turnovers this season.
The series began in 1888, and the teams had met every year from 1944 to 2004 before the league’s expansion beyond nine teams made those get-togethers less frequent. The nonconference series came because the teams weren't scheduled to meet in league play for six seasons (2016-21).
Wake Forest won the first nonconference game at home in 2019 in a game that ended with an officiating mistake, then the teams got an extra ACC matchup last year when the league shuffled its scheduling model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNC won that one 59-53, rallying from 21 down in the third quarter behind Howell setting program records with 550 yards passing and six TDs along with a rushing score.
UNC has seen multiple players enter the transfer portal in recent weeks to change its depth chart, most recently with receiver Emery Simmons and defensive lineman Kristian Varner this week. Simmons started six games with 11 catches for 243 yards so far but didn’t play against Notre Dame, while Varner had appeared in 10 games through two-plus seasons.
The school said reserves Khafre Brown at receiver, Clyde Pinder Jr. at defensive lineman and Josh Henderson running back had also entered the portal in the past two weeks.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap