As a "sports blogger," I'm not really sure what ethical parameters are supposed to guide me. I guess if a UNC athletic department official offered me $20 to say that Boston College's cheerleaders smell like bourbon, or that I heard that Randy Shannon huffs amyl nitrite and drinks PBR, I wouldn't do it. I might take the money, but I'd never write anything I knew to be false.
I am, however, fairly certain that I don't have to pretend to the same kind of impartiality that news reporters fake. I'm free to be a fan.
At first, this didn't matter much. I like football, I live in North Carolina, I knew I'd enjoy covering the ‘Heels, but I didn't care much whether they won or lost. To be honest, I expected them to be terrible, but I thought that, in some ways, it might be more interesting to cover a bad team than a good one.
But now I'm a convert. These guys don't have the most high-profile players, a media-anointed coach, or the most historic program. They play for a school whose academic standards are high enough to make recruiting tricky. They're not in, or near, a major urban center likely to attract high profile players. They lost starting QB TJ Yates early in the season, and their best offensive player, future NFL starter Brandon Tate, two weeks ago. Neither will return. Coming into Saturday's game, they had two in-conference losses, one to Virginia Tech when Yates went down, and the other to erratic Virginia in their first game without Tate.
But this has been a strange and exciting season for North Carolina under Coach Butch Davis, an old hand brought in to raise the program's reputation. Strange because they keep winning games despite allowing opponents to beat them in total yards and time of possession, and exciting because they make big plays, offensively (usually big passes to Hakeem Nicks or Tate), defensively (the team is intercepting the ball at a record-setting pace), and on special teams (specifically punt blocks).
Last week, against see-saw Virginia, they finally outgained an opponent - and lost.
Saturday, North Carolina faced another ACC foe, 5-1 Boston College. BC has an ace QB, Chris Crane, and is known for scoring in bunches. Having lost two in-conference games, UNC had to win to keep their bowl hopes alive.
However, UNC lost their first Tate-less contest last week, and I was pretty skeptical that they could keep pulling rabbits out of a hat every game.
I was exactly wrong.
This time they won, and it wasn't a weird, sea-of-the-pants, you-wouldn't-know-it-unless-you-looked-at-the-scoreboard type of a thing. They whupped up on BC. Offense and defense were clicking, and this victory definitively proved that, adversity be damned, UNC has a shot at winning a bowl game this year.
Cam Sexton, 238 yards.
Hakeem Nicks, 139 yards, 4 TDs.
UNC defense, 3 interceptions, 1 interception returned for a TD.
UNC 45, Boston College 24.
Did I mention that I'm becoming a fan? There's a lot to like about this team, starting with a few of the individual players. Nicks has been great all year, but he's taking over with Tate out. Sexton, despite the fact that the coaching staff had apparently almost written him off, playing freshman Mike Paulus for a few disastrous quarters after Yates went down, remains completely collected, calmly distributing the ball to his playmakers. Safety Trimane Goddard has made momentum-changing, game-saving interceptions in several games this year. Bruce Carter blocked three (3!) punts against UConn and came within centimeters of another Saturday... I could go on.
Suffice to say that, after a very bad start, wherein BC scored a field goal on their first drive, and ran a fumble in for a TD on UNC's first possession, the ‘Heels pounded their opponents. Highlights included two Kendric Burney interceptions, another Goddard interception (which he returned for a touchdown), LB Mark Paschal's 6 tackles in a little more than a quarter, and Nicks's barnburning performance, which included a rushing TD.
Also, I don't know what the opposite of a tackle is, but that's what happened when Sexton completed a short pass to 245-pound fullback Bobby Rome, and a hapless BC defender tried to take him down. If you can find it on youtube, check it out.
The ‘Heels have next week off, but after that they face Georgia Tech, a prospect that would have been wince-inducing to any reasonable UNC fan at the beginning of the season, but now seems downright titillating.