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Monday, July 12, 2010
Key stretch: North Carolina

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

We'll get the week started by resuming the series of key stretches that could make or break a team's season:

Key stretch: at Florida State, Virginia Tech, NC State (Nov. 6-20)

Analysis: This wasn’t an easy stretch to determine, as UNC’s Coastal Division opponents are spread out and you could argue that the first two games are the most important, and will set the tone for the season. A loss to LSU won’t derail the Heels’ chances at an ACC title, though, and a loss to Georgia Tech could potentially be overcome down the stretch. ACC losses in November, though, cannot. A road trip to Tallahassee should be interesting considering FSU was one of the teams that had its way with UNC’s heralded defense last year in a nationally televised game. The home game against Virginia Tech should go a long way in determining the outcome of the division race, and the Hokies will want to redeem themselves from last year’s loss. And if there’s one thing NC State coach Tom O’Brien has done that’s made Wolfpack fans happy since he’s been there it’s beat Carolina -- three straight times. Is it time for the Tar Heels to finally lay claim to the unofficial state championship?

Prediction: The Hokies won’t be a pushover, but UNC’s toughest task here will be a road win against Florida State. The Seminoles have already proven they can overcome the UNC defense and should have some confidence from last year’s come-from-behind win. UNC’s senior defenders didn’t return to Chapel Hill to lose to rival NC State a fourth straight time, so revenge should be a significant factor in that game. North Carolina will have to -- gasp -- play better defense in this stretch if it’s going to have a chance against Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson, not to mention one young Hokie whose pride was wounded.

More key stretches: