North Carolina continues to climb in the rankings, but the question is whether the Tar Heels are moving up fast enough to make the College Football Playoff. A lot of big games are yet to be played -- not the least of which is the ACC championship -- so nothing is etched in stone.
Record: 11-0 (8-0 ACC)
Next big obstacle: With all due respect to the in-state rivalry, South Carolina is fresh off a loss to The Citadel, so Clemson doesn’t need to be too worried. It’s the ACC title game that will be the difference between a berth in the playoff or missing out.
Reason for optimism: North Carolina’s struggles against Virginia Tech’s stout defensive front last week should offer something of a template for Clemson, which can match the Hokies’ force while feeling comfortable in leaving their exceptional defensive backs in man coverage.
Cause for concern: The margin for error is thin. Clemson might still be among the best teams in the nation even if it loses to the Tar Heels in the ACC title game, but there’s zero chance of any ACC team outside of its champion making the playoff.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 10-1 (7-0)
Next big obstacle: A year ago, North Carolina was thumping its chest after blowing out Duke. It assumed an easy win over NC State, and instead the Wolfpack ran wild. In other words, the season finale against NC State won’t be an easy win.
Reason for optimism: If it wins out, UNC can claim a 12-game winning streak and a victory over the No. 1 team in the land, along with a conference championship. That’s going to be a good case to make to the CFP committee.
Cause for concern: The Heels continue to climb in the rankings, but right now they’re still behind all of their primary competition for a playoff berth. Wins over NC State and Clemson could change that, but UNC is still playing to an inside straight.