BTP: As we arrive at rivalry week, a lot has changed since these two teams last met. What in your opinion is the reason for UNC's improvement and Coastal Division Title?
Doc: One word. Defense. I don't think you can understate the miracle that Gene Chizik and the defensive staff have done in taking one of the country's worst defenses last season and making it not only respectable but solid with essentially the same players from the year before. The offense is what we thought it was, especially with 10 starters back. Even last season the thought was that if the defense was just serviceable, this team would be OK. The key is that the defense has been above average and Carolina is 10-1.
The other thing that most stands out from last season to this one is the mentality of the team. The come-from-behind win at Georgia Tech was huge and last week's game at Virginia Tech is the kind of game Tar Heel fans have seen UNC lose over and over through the years. Couple that with the big wins in conference and the team is playing with a confidence that has not been seen in a long while.
BTP: UNC has one of the most formidable offenses in the conference. Elijah Hood has been a big part of that, but who is someone on UNC's roster that you would consider to be as important that may not get as much attention?
Doc: Carolina is fortunate to have a number of offensive weapons whether it's Mack Hollins or Ryan Switzer catching the ball or T.J. Logan as the change-of-pace back. I would say the unsung workhorse of that group is Quinshad Davis. He's not UNC's career receptions leader for nothing. If there's a big catch that needs to be made, Quinshad is the guy to get it for the offense.
BTP: Who on the Pack's roster gives you the most concern heading into Saturday?
Doc: State has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball so it's hard to pick just one. I love State's young guys, like Nyheim Hines,who is so explosive, and Darian Roseboro who is making himself known on defense. But when you play the Pack the guy I'm always worried about is Jacoby Brissett. He may be the league's most under-appreciated quarterback and he can hurt you with his arm or with his legs. Carolina's defensive line has been inconsistent in applying pressure and if Brissett has time to check down he can do damage in the passing game or can scramble for yardage. As he goes, the Wolfpack offense goes. It will be important to keep him contained.
BTP: Any major injuries to report for the game?
Doc: Now you know Larry Fedora doesn't give out injury information so you're not going to get any out of me. Seriously there are no significant injuries of which I am aware.
BTP: Let's get a prediction on the game - who wins?
Doc: I expect a low-key game without a lot of...oh, who are we kidding, this will be a war. Carolina will be remembering last year's beat-down and State will be playing for respect and to knock UNC out of any hopes of the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six bowl. The early line has the game at about 5-6 points and that sounds about right to me. State is playing well but this just seems to be UNC's year and I think the Tar Heel offense will score its requisite 28-30 points while the defense will do what it has done all season - bend but not break and come up with key plays when needed. I'll say UNC 30, NCSU 24.