Oct 9, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina Tar Heels head coach  Mack Brown looks on from with quarterback Sam Howell (7) the sidelines against the Florida State Seminoles at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Five-star Zach Rice, top OT in 2022, commits to UNC

Zach Rice, the top-ranked offensive tackle in the high school Class of 2022, committed to North Carolina on Thursday.

The five-star player from Lynchburg, Va., chose coach Mack Brown and the Tar Heels out of a top five featuring Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Virginia.

“The difference was obviously I want to play for a Hall of Fame head coach. Mack Brown is amazing,” Rice said during his announcement at an event at Liberty Christian Academy in Virginia. “We’re on the come up right now, I really believe that, and the only thing I can do is get better.”

Rice’s commitment makes North Carolina the only program in the country with commitments from two of the top 10 prospects in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Rice is rated the No. 9 overall prospect, and five-star defensive lineman Travis Shaw is No. 4 overall.

Rice is listed at 6-foot-6, 282 pounds.

“I will be a program-changer,” Rice said.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive back Akeem Dent Sr. (27) listens to defensive coordinator Adam Fuller (left) as he talks with the defensive unit during the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina tries to stay unbeaten at home vs. Florida State

North Carolina puts its perfect home record on the line Saturday when Florida State comes to Chapel Hill, N.C., for an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.

The Tar Heels (3-2, 2-2 in ACC) are led by quarterback Sam Howell and are 3-0 at home this season.

Howell has thrown for 300 or more yards in four straight games, the longest streak of his career. He has a touchdown pass in all 30 games as a Tar Heel, the longest active streak in the country, and in last weekend’s win over Duke moved past T.J. Yates for third place in North Carolina history in career total offense.

The school record in total offense is within reach for Howell, as he trails Marquise Williams by just over 1,000 yards. Howell needs 34 yards to pass Darian Durant for second in all-time passing yards at the school, and 656 to set the record.

Saturday will be the first game between the two conference rivals in Chapel Hill since 2009. The three most recent meetings were played in Tallahassee, Fla. in 2010, 2016 and 2020. The last four games in the series have seen each team win twice, and all four games have been decided by three points or less.

“Still haven’t put our best game together,” Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown said. “We’re still waiting to do that. This weekend would be great to do so.”

The Tar Heels plan to pay tribute to the late former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden with a mural at their home stadium.

Florida State (1-4, 1-1 in ACC) got its first win of the season last week, 33-30 over Syracuse. But even though it leads the overall series between the two teams with a 16-3-1 record, Florida State is a double-digit underdog in this game.

Florida State also has a pair of three-point losses this season.

“To think that we’ve had three games that have come down to the last play, four games that have been down to the last drive,” head coach Mike Norvell said.”The margins are very small. The detail, the effort that goes into that, the execution of what’s necessary to be able to achieve success, we want to play our best game.”

Jordan Travis broke Florida State’s program record for career rushing yards by a quarterback during his career-high 113-yard performance against Syracuse. Travis, who set FSU’s single-season quarterback rushing record last season, has 932 rushing yards in 16 career games to surpass 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward’s previous record of 889 yards.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs (11) is tackled by Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets linebacker Charlie Thomas (25) in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

QB Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech demolish No. 21 North Carolina

Reserve quarterback Jeff Sims ran for three touchdowns and passed for another as Georgia Tech knocked off No. 21 North Carolina 45-22 on Saturday night in Atlanta.

Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), which flirted with an upset a week earlier at Clemson, produced its first signature victory under third-year coach Geoff Collins.

Sims gained 128 yards on 10 carries as part of Georgia Tech’s 261-yard rushing attack. He capped it with a 50-yard touchdown run.

North Carolina (2-2, 1-2) has lost both its road games, this time despite Sam Howell’s 306 yards on 25-for-39 passing for two touchdowns. He lost fumbles three times.

Jahmyr Gibbs scored on a 4-yard run with 5:39 to play in the third quarter as Georgia Tech extended its lead to 27-7.

The Tar Heels struck back less than two minutes later on Howell’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Kamari Morales.

On Georgia Tech’s next possession, one play after converting a fourth-and-3 on Sims’ pass to Kyric McGowan, Malachi Carter made an incredible catch on the side of the end zone on a 27-yard pass. The Yellow Jackets tacked on a two-point conversion on a trick play.

Again, North Carolina wasted little time finding the end zone. Howell connected with Josh Downs on a 4-yard scoring play and a two-point conversion.

Georgia Tech then ate up more than seven minutes before Brent Cimaglia’s 31-yard field for a 38-22 lead.

North Carolina began the game much better, scoring first on Howell’s tackle-breaking 23-yard run. That came after Gio Biggers blocked a Georgia Tech punt, so the Tar Heels needed to go only 40 yards.

A pair of Cimaglia field goals in a span of less than a minute got Georgia Tech going. Then the Yellow Jackets went ahead when Sims scored on an 11-yard quarterback keeper.

Those last two scoring possessions of the half came after North Carolina turnovers gave Georgia Tech possession inside the Tar Heels’ 20-yard line.

Howell was sacked five times in the first half.

The game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, rather than at Georgia Tech’s campus stadium.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) looks to pass in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 North Carolina outpaces Virginia in shootout

Sam Howell passed for 307 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 112 yards to lead No. 21 North Carolina to a 59-39 shootout victory over Virginia in Atlantic Coast Conference action Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Josh Downs caught eight receptons for 203 yards and two touchdowns and Ty Chandler rushed for 198 yards and two scores for the Tar Heels (2-1, 1-1 ACC), who never punted and outgained Virginia 699-577.

Brennan Armstrong passed for a school-record 554 yards and four touchdowns for the Cavaliers (2-1, 0-1), who had won the last four meetings. Dontayvion Wicks had seven catches for 183 yards and a TD and Billy Kemp IV added eight grabs for 106 yards and two scores.

After UVA had erased a 17-point deficit in the second quarter to grab a 28-24 halftime lead, the Tar Heels regained control with three touchdown drives in the third quarter.

Howell threw a 5-yard TD to Garrett Walston and Caleb Hood scored on a 5-yard run to put the Tar Heels up 38-28. After a Virginia field goal, Chandler’s 5-yard TD run made it 45-31 with 1:40 left in the third.

Howell’s 3-yard TD pass to Kamari Morales expanded the lead to 52-31 early in the fourth.

Armstrong’s 9-yard TD pass to Kemp and a two-point conversion made it 52-39 with about seven minutes left, but North Carolina capped the scoring with Chandler’s 7-yard run at the 2:57 mark.

The Coastal Division rivals combined for 52 points and 764 yards of offense in an explosive first half.

The Tar Heels scored 21 points on their first eight snaps, with Howell tossing three touchdowns in the first quarter. Downs caught the first two, dashing 59 yards untouched after a short pass for a quick 7-0 lead and then laying out for a spectacular 37-yard catch in the end zone to push it to 14-0.

On North Carolina’s first play after a 1-yard touchdown run by Virginia’s Wayne Taulapapa, Howell hooked up with Khafre Brown for a 75-yard score and a 21-7 lead.

After a field goal put UNC ahead 24-7, Armstrong rallied UVA with three second-quarter TD passes to storm ahead 28-24.

Armstrong launched a 40-yard TD to a diving Wicks, fired a 1-yard scoring strike to Jelani Woods and dropped in a 21-yard touchdown pass to Kemp, the last one just six seconds before halftime. Armstrong had 364 passing yards at the break.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs the ball during the first quarter at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Unbeaten Virginia steps up in class to face No. 21 North Carolina

Virginia looks for its first road win against a Top 25 opponent since 2011 when it visits No. 21 North Carolina for an Atlantic Coast Conference game Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Head coach Mack Brown of the Tar Heels (1-1, 0-1 ACC) feels the visiting Cavaliers (2-0, 0-0) aren’t getting enough respect.

“They should be rated higher than they are,” Mack said. “They should be rated higher than we are. They’ve dominated two games.”

Lately Virginia has also dominated the series against UNC, billed as the “South’s Oldest Rivalry.” This is their 126th meeting dating back to 1892, with the Cavaliers sweeping the last four contests.

“It’s not even on my mind,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said when asked about his recent success against the Heels. “Looking back doesn’t help anyone. We’re focusing only on today and today’s preparation and then we’ll do the same tomorrow, and we’ll do the same until we show up to play.”

The Cavaliers dominated Illinois in a 42-14 victory last Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. Brennan Armstrong passed for 405 yards and five touchdowns, 6-foot-7 tight end Jelani Woods caught five passes for 122 yards and one score, and Dontayvion Wicks caught two TDs.

This is the first of five games for Virginia against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including road games at No. 24 Miami (Sept. 30) and No. 23 BYU (Oct. 30).

The Tar Heels began the season ranked No. 10 before losing their ACC opener at Virginia Tech.

“After the opening ball game, we had to quit worrying about rankings and we had to quit worrying about the conference,” Brown said. “We had to play better and get back on track.”

Fueled by Sam Howell, North Carolina did just that with a 59-17 home thumping of Georgia State last Saturday night.

Howell passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards and two more scores, including a career-long 62-yard scamper. The only other Tar Heels quarterback with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game was Marquise Williams against Notre Dame in 2014.

In two meetings with the Cavaliers, Howell is 38-of-57 passing for 796 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

Brown announced that cornerback Ladaeson DeAndre Hollins is out for the season with a lower-body injury suffered against Georgia State. Guard Joshua Ezeudu and running backs British Brooks and D.J. Jones will be evaluated during the week before their status for Saturday is determined. Safety Ja’Qurious Conley left Saturday’s game with an injury to his left hand and re-entered the game wearing a cast.

As for Virginia, Armstrong was treated in the medical tent during the Illinois game for an apparent leg/knee injury before returning to the field.

“Anytime your quarterback has anything, I’m concerned,” Mendenhall said. “I haven’t heard, which is always good news, otherwise I would have got texts and emails and alerts and reminders. I haven’t had any of that.”

Defensive end Adeeb Atariwa was in street clothes for the Illini game but Mendenhall is “hopeful” he can play this Saturday.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA;  Virginia Tech Hokies fans cheer during the second quarter against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech defense stops No. 10 North Carolina

Virginia Tech’s Braxton Burmeister outproduced heralded North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell as the Hokies recorded a 17-10 upset of the 10th-ranked Tar Heels in an Atlantic Coast Conference season opener Friday night in Blacksburg, Va.

Burmeister had a touchdown run and a scoring pass. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 169 yards with one interception.

Howell was 17-for-32 for 208 yards and one TD, but he was intercepted three times in a rough outing for a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.

It didn’t matter that once in each half Virginia Tech had possession inside the North Carolina 15-yard line and came away without any points.

The Tar Heels closed within 17-10 with 5:53 left on Grayson Atkins’ 31-yard field goal.

North Carolina regained possession with 3:10 left, needing to go 87 yards. The Tar Heels converted a fourth-and-11 with an 18-yard Howell pass to Emery Simmons. However, Charmarri Conner intercepted Howell with 37 seconds to seal the upset.

North Carolina appeared in big trouble after a failed fourth-down play with 12:33 to play, with the Hokies taking possession at the Tar Heels’ 43.

Ja’Qurious Conley intercepted Burmeister on the next play. Two plays later, Dax Hollifield picked off Howell.

That sequence went for naught for the Hokies when John Parker Romo missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt.

The game represented a huge upgrade for the Virginia Tech defense, which was on the wrong end of a 56-45 road loss to North Carolina last year.

Down 14-0, North Carolina threatened on its second drive of the second half, but Howell was picked off by Jermaine Waller. The Tar Heels finally got on the board when Howell connected with Josh Downs on a 37-yard touchdown play with 4:20 to play in the third quarter.

Virginia Tech responded with a 48-yard Romo field goal for a 17-7 edge with 14:18 to go in the game.

The Hokies led 14-0 at halftime. North Carolina had only four first-half possessions, and the last of those began with 19 seconds to play. The Tar Heels had 23 offensive snaps in the half.

Virginia Tech, trying to recover after its string of 27 consecutive seasons in a bowl came to a halt in 2020, scored on the game’s opening possession with an eight-play drive that ended with Burmeister’s 4-yard run.

The Hokies moved inside the North Carolina 10-yard line on their next possession, but that threat was halted by a fumble in the last minute of the first quarter.

On Virginia Tech’s next chance, an 80-yard drive concluded on Burmeister’s third-and-goal pass to James Mitchell for an 11-yard touchdown.

The Tar Heels entered the season with their highest preseason ranking in 24 years after they concluded last season with an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Coach Mack Brown is starting the third season of his second stint in charge at Chapel Hill.

–Field Level Media

Oct 19, 2019; Blacksburg, VA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) is sacked on a two point conversion attempt against the Virginia Tech Hokies in overtime at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

UNC heavily backed as road favorite at Virginia Tech

North Carolina kicks off its most highly anticipated season in nearly a quarter-century as a 5.5-point favorite at Virginia Tech on Friday night.

The 10th-ranked Tar Heels are being backed by 75 percent of the handle and 88 percent of the spread-line bets at DraftKings. North Carolina’s -220 moneyline is also being strongly supported with 70 percent of the handle and 88 percent of the bets.

Virginia Tech is also a 5.5-point underdog at PointsBet, where the Hokies’ moneyline is +175 to North Carolina’s -221.

The Tar Heels’ stock has risen largely because of last season’s Orange Bowl appearance and the presence of third-year quarterback Sam Howell, who is considered a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. He has the fourth-shortest odds at +1400 at DraftKings.

“I know we should be in the Top 10, or higher,” Tar Heels wide receiver Emery Simmons said. “But I just think our main focus now is — we’ve got so many non-believers that don’t believe in us that we should be there — so we’re trying to keep our head down and work.”

The season opener in Blacksburg, Va., is an Atlantic Coast Conference game between Coastal Division rivals. North Carolina is the preseason pick to win the division.

Last year in Chapel Hill, N.C., the teams met in early October with both nationally ranked. The Tar Heels won 56-45, racking up 656 yards of total offense with a crowd limited to 7 percent of stadium capacity due to the pandemic.

This time there’s bound to be a different atmosphere at usually raucous Lane Stadium.

“We’re going to a hostile place that’s a very well-coached football team that doesn’t like us very much and has a circle around our head,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “So get better. Quit talking about how good you are and continue to get better.”

Oddsmakers expect a high-scoring affair. The 63.0-point Over/Under is being backed by 62 percent of the bets at DraftKings. However, the action has been split with 78 percent of the handle on the Under.

Brown is entering his third season since returning to the helm of the Tar Heels. He coached the program to prominence through the late 1990s before heading to Texas.

This marks North Carolina’s highest preseason ranking in 24 years — when Brown was coach for a 1997 team that was undefeated going into a November showdown with Florida State.

It’s not so rosy for Virginia Tech after last year’s 5-6 record, ending a string of 27 consecutive years of bowl appearances. The Hokies lost five of their final seven games.

A better offseason has improved the outlook.

“I feel great about where we’re at and what’s in front of us,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

Fuente is in his sixth season in charge of the Hokies, and an upgrade in results is bound to be required to secure his future with the team.

“We’ve got some guys who have made some physical strides that may give them the opportunity to help us from a depth standpoint,” Fuente said. “But they’re going to have to do that on the field before I feel better about it.”

The Hokies haven’t fared well against highly ranked teams in season openers. They’re 0-9 in openers vs. Top 10 opponents, most recently a 2015 loss to No. 1 Ohio State.

The Tar Heels and Hokies have played memorable games in Blacksburg, including Virginia Tech’s six-overtime 43-41 victory two years ago at home. In the Tar Heels’ 2015 visit, they upended Virginia Tech in overtime in legendary coach Frank Beamer’s final home game.

Virginia Tech is 6-3 at home in the series.

North Carolina’s 8-4 record last year came with upset losses at Florida State and Virginia. The mark also included a defeat to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, which was played without standout North Carolina running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter because they opted out of the game.

Replenishing the backfield behind Howell has been one of the objectives for the Tar Heels. Some of that figures to come with the addition of Ty Chandler, who transferred from Tennessee.

Howell’s 68 touchdown throws are the most in ACC history for a player through two seasons.

–Field Level Media

Sep 7, 2019; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Michael Carter (8) rushes for a first down against the Miami Hurricanes during a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 28-25. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Jets draft Michael Carter, then Michael Carter again

The New York Jets selected Michael Carter in the fourth round of the NFL draft on Saturday. And they must have liked the pick so much that they repeated it in the fifth round.

Yes, New York selected two Michael Carters on Saturday. The fourth-round pick, Michael Carter from North Carolina, is a running back. The fifth-round pick, Michael Carter II of rival Duke, is a cornerback.

The two aren’t related.

The Tar Heels’ Carter was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team selection and a third-team Associated Press All-American in 2020. He finished his North Carolina career in fourth place on the school’s all-time rushing list with 3,404 career yards after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

At Duke, Carter II played all over the defensive backfield and was a third-team All-ACC choice in 2020. In 46 career games (36 starts), he had 135 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks and four interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Javonte Williams (25) runs for a touchdown as North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jakeen Harris (6) defends in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina RB Williams opts out of Orange Bowl

North Carolina standout running back Javonte Williams said Saturday that he will skip the Orange Bowl and declare for the NFL draft.

Williams rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns on 157 carries in 11 games this season. He also caught 25 passes for 305 yards and three scores.

“Thank you Coach (Mack) Brown and the staff for giving me countless opportunities to display my talents,” Williams said, in part, in his announcement on his Instagram account. “… Thank you to the University of North Carolina for the last three years, which have been filled with memories that will last a lifetime.”

In his three seasons with the Tar Heels, Williams rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 touchdowns and also had 50 receptions for 539 yards and four scores.

Williams is projected to be a second-round pick in the NFL draft.

Williams is the fourth key North Carolina player to opt out of the Orange Bowl, set for Jan. 2 versus Texas A&M. Also skipping the game to prepare for the draft are running back Michael Carter, receiver Dyami Brown and linebacker Chazz Surratt.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Michael Carter (8) with the ball in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina RB Carter, WR Brown skip bowl, enter draft

North Carolina running back Michael Carter and wide receiver Dyami Brown shifted from Orange Bowl preparations to training for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Carter announced Monday via social media that he would not play in the Tar Heels’ bowl game against No. 5 Texas A&M on Jan. 2.

“Thankful would be an understatement,” the senior wrote on Twitter. “I give God the praise because without him, I’m nothing. I want to thank my parents for laying down the foundation for success. I want to thank my brothers for all their love and honesty. I want to thank the entire 850 for embracing me as their own and for their unwavering support. I want to thank Coach (Larry) Fedora for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime and his continued support, and to Mack Brown for trusting me to help lead this program and make our team feel comfortable in a time where we needed it most.

“I want to thank Coach (Robert) Gillespie for being there for me and pushing me to where I am now. I’m a better player and man because of him. Thank you to all the coaches who have pushed me and believed in me. I also want to thank all my teammates, I love y’all 4L. Last but certainly not least, I want to thank Tar Heel Nation. It’s been an honor to represent UNC, and I can confidently say I gave you all I had.”

Carter, a Florida native, rushed for 3,404 yards in four seasons in Chapel Hill, including 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns, plus 25 receptions and two TDs in 2020.

Brown, a junior, led the ACC with 1,099 receiving yards in 2020 and has 21 career touchdowns.

“These past three years went by fast but the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made within the three years is just amazing,” Brown wrote. “So many memories and stories to tell but I would like to thank y’all as well because you are family to me. To the fans, I love y’all because even without knowing me, you have supported me and did not stop supporting me. To the start of a dream, with that being said … I’ve decided to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.”

–Field Level Media