With the offensive threats possessed by the Golden Bears, I think UNC will need to score 30 points to win this game. It should be a close affair throughout, but I expect the Tar Heels to pull in the victory.
Prediction: UNC 31, Cal 27
Holt: Last year, the California Golden Bears traveled 2,800 miles across the country and stole a road win, 35-30, to open the season against North Carolina. This year, I expect the Tar Heels to return the favor.
North Carolina enters the matchup with certainty at quarterback, a dynamic downfield threat in Anthony Ratliff-Williams and depth in the backfield. A young offensive line may struggle, but threats at running back and receiver should be effective enough to offset those struggles.
Cal returns most of its playmakers from a team that went 5-7 in head coach Justin Wilcox’s first season. That includes leading rusher Patrick Laird and its top two receiving targets, Vic Wharton III and Kanawai Noa.
Quarterback Ross Bowers returns after starting all 12 games last season, but the Cal coaching staff did not name Bowers the starter until Tuesday, after declaring an open competition for the spot in spring practice. That perhaps indicates a lack of confidence in Bowers.
Given the likely absence of Michael Carter, look for a lot of Jordon Brown and even more Ratliff-Williams. The offense will carry the day and North Carolina will leave Berkeley with a win and begin the path back to a bowl game.
Prediction: UNC 38, Cal 28
Jack: This is the game North Carolina has been looking forward to since Nov. 25, when the nightmare of last season was finally over in a loss to N.C. State.
It'll finally be a chance to escape the 3-9 season storyline that has haunted it for some time now.
After a loss to California to open last season, the Tar Heels will be looking to bounce back in a real way for two reasons: the team won't want to fall to the Golden Bears two years in a row, nor will it want to start 0-1 for the fourth straight season. It's about time they found a way to win one, even if it's on the road and coming off an abysmal performance that took away the program's confidence.
Starting with another loss, the 12th in the last 15 games, won't be a start the team is looking for — especially if it wants to prove my season prediction wrong.
So, while it isn't necessarily a sign of great things to come the rest of the way, UNC finds a way to win it across the country. Elliott has had plenty of time to settle into being the starter and will be surrounded by a solid running back and wide receiver core to bail him out. Ratliff-Williams, Antonio Williams and Brown might just torch the defense that gave up 28 points per game, on average in 2017, on a few plays.
It won't be an easy or pretty win, or even a clear runaway for most of the game, but I think the Tar Heels will find a way to put (some) distance between them and the bad taste in the rear view mirror.
Prediction: UNC 20, Cal 17