North Carolina did its part, thanks to a career night by St. Petersburg's Oscar Davenport. If Florida State follows through as expected with a victory Saturday over North Carolina State in Tallahassee, the stage will be set for the biggest game in ACC football history, with Davenport as one of the featured players.
No. 5 Carolina (8-0, 5-0) beat stubborn Georgia Tech 16-13 Thursday night before 45,146 in Bobby Dodd Stadium as Davenport carved up the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2) with a career-best 360 yards passing. If No. 3 FSU beats the Wolfpack, Nov. 8 in Chapel Hill will be the first meeting of undefeated ACC teams ranked in the Top 5.
"It's been a long wait for this game with Florida State," said Davenport, whose idol when he was growing up was former FSU quarterback Charlie Ward. "It's a game of the big dogs. This is what you dream of."
Davenport, a former Osceola High standout, was recruited by FSU to fill a position Ward handled with flair and considerable success. But when FSU seemed to recruit Peyton Manning harder and Davenport heard he might be converted to a defensive back, he chose Carolina.
Davenport looked Ward-like against Tech completing 26 of 41 passes with a touchdown. He threw two interceptions in the first half but settled down to lead Carolina to the go-ahead score on its first possession of the second.
It was tied at 6 when Davenport engineered an 11-play, 69-yard drive. He lofted a 30-yard TD to L.C. Stevens down the left sideline for a 13-6 lead.
The Tar Heels got a 31-yard field goal from Josh McGee with 10:22 to play, and the 16-6 lead was enough for Carolina's defense, ranked second in the nation. Tech managed just 186 yards of total offense.
The Yellow Jackets scored with 1:10 to play to make it 16-13 but could not recover an onside kick.
Senior Jonathan Linton rushed for 138 yards and caught six passes for 137 yards. It was the first time in school history a player had 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game.
Carolina totaled 317 yards in the first half _ 242 passing by Davenport _ but committed two of its three turnovers in Tech territory while moving in for a score. Besides Davenport's two interceptions, the Heels lost a fumble at the Tech 35.
Each team kicked two field goals in the half.
Settled into their locker room after the victory, the Tar Heels were more than willing to talk about their showdown with FSU.
"The next eight days are going to be really exciting," defensive end Greg Ellis said. "It's really big. You take into consideration both teams are undefeated and with no playoff system in college football, the loser of this game is out of the national championship picture."
Ellis said he doubts the Tar Heels have played a game this season when they were good enough to beat FSU. "I don't think we have, to be honest with you. We've had some games where we've been slow at the beginning. You can't start slow against a team like Florida State.
"We can't beat them the way we played tonight."
Florida State leads the series 7-0-1, including 3-0 in Kenan Stadium (1986, 1993, 1995). The Tar Heels lost 13-0 last year in Tallahassee.
"This is my last year, it's at the Hill, it's a night game, it's the only game on, everybody will be watching," linebacker Kivuusama Mays said. "Now let's get it on. It's step-up-or-shut-up time.
"The opportunity is right in front of our face. If we're going to make good on it, it's up to us."
Around the nation
NEBRASKA: As utility crews restored power to blacked-out Lincoln neighborhoods, one hotel manager said a call to have fans give up their rooms this weekend might have come a bit early.
An estimated 13,000 customers remained without power after a snowstorm snapped trees and power lines Saturday and Sunday. Lincoln Electric System officials said it might take until next week to get everyone back on line.
No. 1 Nebraska plays Oklahoma on Saturday. Wednesday, Mayor Mike Johanns and Lt. Gov. Kim Robak appealed for fans holding weekend hotel reservations to cancel them, saying it would free up space for residents whose homes remained without power.
John Klimpel, general manager of the 233-room Ramada Plaza, said fans had canceled only two rooms. Meanwhile, several Lincoln residents had checked out. "I think we all cried wolf a little too early."
WASHINGTON ST.: QB Ryan Leaf's bruised biceps won't keep him out against Arizona State.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.