Withers, McNeill to make history while State and Duke face tough assignments

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Perhaps what matters most is that almost nobody is writing about it now.

UNC coach Everett Withers
But some history is going to be made at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville.

UNC (3-1) will travel to East Carolina (1-2) for yet another big in-state matchup, and for the first time ever two African American coaches will be guiding North Carolina Division I-FBS teams against each other when the Tar Heels' Everett Withers squares off against the Pirates' Ruffin McNeill.

Jim Caldwell, now head coach of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, was the ACC’s first Black head football coach when he was at Wake Forest from 1993-2000. McNeill and Withers — who replaced Butch Davis as the Tar Heels’ interim head coach — and the second and third at the FCS level in North Carolina.

The Tar Heels, who lead the series 10-2-1, are listed as 6½-point favorites.

The sold-out, certain to be noisy contest Down East is one of three games involving the Triangle’s ACC teams that are going to have a lot to say about if and where they go bowling.

N.C. State (2-2, 0-1 ACC) will host Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0 ACC) at 3:30 p.m., while Duke (2-2) visits Florida International at 7.

UNC and ECU earlier this week signed another two-year contract, which will have the Pirates visiting Chapel Hill next season and the Tar Heels going back to Greenville in 2013.

“I’m excited about moving forward with this team,” said Withers, whose team fell at Georgia Tech 35-28 six days ago. “I think we have a chance to have a really good football team. I’m looking forward to playing a rivalry game this week against ECU. I’m excited about that and excited about the opportunity for our kids to play against some guys that they know. They know a lot of guys on ECU’s team, so that will be fun.”

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill

McNeill, whose team lost 42-17 last season in Chapel Hill, said he has plenty of respect for his opponent.

“I’ve known (Withers) for a long time — we’ve followed each other at some different jobs,” McNeill said. “His very first college job was taking over for a position I left.

“Everett is a really good football coach. The staff has done a great job the last two years holding everything together. They had a tough game against Georgia Tech, but I have a lot of respect for their staff and team. They have a lot of talent as we all know.”

Georgia Tech, which leads the nation in total offense at 630.5 yards per game, is a 10-point favorite over the Wolfpack despite the fact State won 45-28 last year in Atlanta.

State still seeks its first win over an FBS foe, but while fans are still lamenting the departure of last season’s quarterback Russell Wilson for Wisconsin Mike Glennon has done an outstanding job.

The problems have been with a banged-up defense and an inconsistent ground attack that produced minus-26 yards in a 44-14 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22.

“(The team has) been resilient,” State coach Tom O’Brien said. “The first four games are over with and forgotten about. They’ve moved on. They’re getting ready to play a home game against a conference football team.

“They’re excited about this. The guys who are playing defense are excited. This is a great (Georgia Tech) offense. It’s a great challenge for them and they’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Duke will be making an extra trip to one of its prime recruiting areas when the Blue Devils visit the Sun Belt member Golden Panthers. The Blue Devils’ top two receivers, Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, are from the Miami area.

“We’re playing a very fast football team in Florida International this week, so we’re going to have to rev up,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Obviously, it’s on the road and in an environment that none of our guys have been in (and) we’re going to have to play our best football against a team that knows how to win.

“Florida International is another team we’re playing that’s a bowl team from a year ago, and they have a lot of players who are juniors and seniors that have been a big part of it. They’re putting together an outstanding program, and their coaching staff has done a tremendous job."

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