by Mike Potter
It’s the annual weekend of the biggest football game in the Triangle, as UNC (6-3, 2-3 ACC) visits N.C. State (4-4, 1-3) at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday at 12:30.
The contest will be the 101st in the history of the series, with the Tar Heels holding a 63-31-6 advantage. But State has won four straight, and looks to equal its record streak in the series of five straight under Dick Sheridan from 1988-92.
UNC, which has already earned a bowl bid while State needs to get three wins to assure one, is a 3½-point favorite.
Also Saturday, Duke (3-5, 1-3) will be at Miami (4-4, 2-3) for a 3 p.m. contest in which the Hurricanes will be 15½-point favorites.
Withers, who replaced Butch Davis on short notice when the latter was fired in August in the midst of a scandal involving illegal benefits to players as well as academic cheating, said in an interview on WCMC-FM (99.9) that recruits need to know he coaches “the” flagship university of the state.
“They need to know it academically,” he said. “If you look at our graduation rates opposed to our opponent this week’s graduation rates for football, I think you’ll see a difference. If you look at the educational environment here, I think you’ll see a difference.”
And O'Brien hit back long and hard.
“(State’s graduation rates) certainly aren’t where we want them to be, and it’s certainly an ongoing process. But graduation rates are like the Titanic. It’s tough to turn around because it’s a six-year average (and) we’ve turned ours around. … (State’s academic support people) were the first ones that certified for the national academic advising board (and) are doing a great job. At our school — A number one — all classes have a syllabus. Our guys go to school, they’re not given grades, and they graduate. …
“As far as the ‘flagship,’ here’s a guy (Withers) that’s on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis (in a multi-pronged NCAA investigation). … Three things you can’t do in college football: you have an agent (John Blake) on your staff, you’re paying your players and you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play. … If that’s what the people want in their ‘flagship’ university in North Carolina then so be it.”
Tune in tomorrow.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe was just talking about football when he discussed the game with the Hurricanes.
“We're just not going to do (quit),” Cutcliffe said. “We're not built that way. We have character on this team. That is an indication of the program. I believe deeply in my heart by the way we go about our business, our program, our work ethic at practice, our work ethic off the field and our weight room work ethic. If we were 8-0 right now, we would be just as hungry to get better. That works both ways. I promise you being 3-5 is not a deterrent nor ever will be to how it will work.
“Our program is winning right now. Our team is not, but because we are getting better and because we are recruiting well, our guys are maybe playing harder than anybody else out there. Our program continues to win. I am not going to let that get lost at this point. It is sometimes frustrating, but we don’t have much margin for error. That is just the fact.”