No. 18 Tar Heels host Orange to open season in ACC play

Syracuse at No. 18 North Carolina, Saturday at noon ET (ACC Network).

Line: North Carolina by 23.

Series record: Syracuse leads 3-2.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

The Tar Heels surprised many with a bowl season to start Mack Brown’s second tenure with the program. This time, there are higher expectations. UNC won its last three games to close the 2019 season by lopsided margins and is looking for a fast start to a season in which they’re expected to be a factor in the ACC title chase. The Orange won 10 games in 2018 but slid to a 5-7 record last season. With a daunting road schedule, a victory against a ranked team could offer an immediate boost.

KEY MATCHUP

Syracuse has a new defensive coordinator in Tony White, who has installed a 3-3-5 scheme with All-American safety Andre Cisco in the rover position. Williams gives the Orange another dynamic defensive back to try to wreak some havoc against the high-powered Tar Heels. That’s particularly true since Brown has expressed some concern in preseason camp about the Tar Heels’ depth on the offensive line.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Syracuse: S Andre Cisco. The junior has 12 career interceptions, tops in the nation among returning Bowl Subdivision players. He had a league-best five interceptions last year despite playing just nine games.

North Carolina: RB Michael Carter. Much of the attention has focused on the return of QB Sam Howell, but Carter ran for 1,003 yards last season. He joins Javonte Williams in providing a potent 1-2 ground-game threat for the Tar Heels, which could create the balance to the Howell-led passing game.

FACTS & FIGURES

Brown split two meetings with Syracuse during his first stint with the Tar Heels, losing at home in 1995 in the college debut of Orange QB Donovan McNabb but winning in 1996 on the road. … The last time Syracuse visited UNC, the Orange won 49-47 in triple overtime in 2003. … The Tar Heels won their last three games to close the 2019 season by a 152-30 margin, including blowout wins on the road against rival North Carolina State and against Temple in the Military Bowl. … Howell’s 38 touchdown passes last year were the most by a true freshman in FBS history. … Syracuse has won six straight season openers, the most recent a 24-0 victory at Liberty last season. … Syracuse QB Tommy DeVito was one of seven power-conference quarterbacks with 19 or more touchdown passes and five or fewer interceptions in 2019.

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