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UNC in 'must-win' situation versus Clemson

The competition between North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones and Clemson freshman receiver Sammy Watkins predates their meeting on the field Saturday in Death Valley.

It began earlier this week, the minute Jones opened his mouth when asked who is the best receiver in the ACC.

“I mean, I know I’m the best,” Jones told reporters at his weekly news conference. “He’s a freshman. He’s a speedster. I’m not knocking him or anything. He’s good, but I’ve been doing this for four years. I’m more technique. I know how to play the game.”

Bulletin board material, anyone?

North Carolina needs to beat Clemson on Saturday in order to keep its chances of playing for the ACC title alive, and while Jones has no doubt about who the best receiver in the ACC is right now, Clemson has already made a case for the best team in the conference. If North Carolina is going to change that perception in its first trip to Death Valley since 2006, it’s going to need some help from more than just Jones. The Tar Heels are coming off a close loss to Miami and have lost their last two ACC games. Inconsistent performances and wins against unheralded opponents have made it difficult to judge exactly what UNC is capable of this year.

“Here's what I do believe, we've had a chance to win both games at the end,” interim coach Everett Withers said of the Coastal Division losses to Georgia Tech and Miami. “I don't know if that's struggling. I think we've given ourselves a chance to win last week at the end. We had a chance at Georgia Tech to win at the end. We beat Virginia so they are in the ACC. They're a pretty good football team.

“But we haven't played our best ballgame yet. We haven't played as well as we're capable of. Hopefully that will turn around this weekend.”

While much of the attention will now be on the stat lines for Jones and Watkins, who are tied for third in the ACC in receptions per game, North Carolina’s defense should be the key to this game. Clemson is averaging 38 points per game, while UNC is allowing 20.1.

The Coastal Division race is evolving into the more interesting of the two, as all six teams are within one game of each other in the loss column.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this division,” said Jones. “We just have to keep going out and playing hard and fighting every weekend. You never know what’s going to happen. This is a must-win for us. We’ve got two losses in the conference right now. To get the victory against a top-10 opponent like Clemson, that would be a big boost for us. We really need to go out there and play well in Death Valley.”

According to Jones, he’s already got at least one Clemson player beat.