by Mike Potter
And that’s rarely the case when North Carolina’s most anticipated college football game of the year kicks off.
But when UNC (2-5, 1-3 ACC) visits N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) today at 12:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in a game to be shown on WRAL, it’s even more of a must-win game than usual on both sides.
The last time both teams came into this one with losing records was in 2007, when Butch Davis and Tom O’Brien was each in his first season at the helm. The loser of this one is going to have to struggle mightily to qualify for a bowl game, while the winner’s position is far, far, far from assured.
The State-Carolina game is not the only Division I game in the Triangle today.
N.C. Central (4-4, 2-2 MEAC) will take on MEAC leader Bethune-Cookman (7-1, 4-0) — ranked No. 12 in the FCS and consensus No. 1 team in Black College polls — at noon at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in a game to be shown on ESPNews. An upset could help interim head coach Dwayne Foster’s bid to become the Eagles’ head coach next season.
Meanwhile Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC), which will be in a bowl game and has a chance to lay a claim to be the best team in the state for the first time in a generation, is idle until next week’s home game with the Wolfpack.
NCCU vs. Bethune-Cookman
The Eagles haven’t been able to break through in this series since joining the MEAC, as B-CU has won three straight meetings (leading the series 3-1 including NCCU’s 24-5 win in 1994).
The closest of the last three games has been 13 points.
Bethune-Cookman is on a four-game winning streak, while the Eagles ended a two-game slide with a 24-10 win at struggling Savannah State last week. The Dunkel Index has B-CU as a 22 ½-point favorite.
“As we look forward to Bethune-Cookman, we know they have great personnel in all phases,” Foster said. “They’re a veteran bunch with a lot of depth. We’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Coach (Brian) Jenkins has his team rolling. They’ll run the ball and try to run the clock on offense and get you into bad down-and-distance situations on defense.”
Jordan Reid has completed 104 of 200 passes for 1109 yards with four TDs and four interceptions for the Eagles. Idreis Augustus has carried 73 times for 319 yards and three TDs, while Adrian Wilkins has caught 30 passes for 350 yards and two TDs.
Quentin Williams has completed 48 of 70 passes for 734 yards with four TDs and four interceptions for the Wildcats. Anthony Jordan has carried 76 times for 392 yards and five TDs, while Eddie Poole has caught 22 passes for 435 yards and a TD.
N.C. State vs. UNC
The Wolfpack has yet to win a conference game under new coach Dave Doeren, and is licking its wounds following a 49-17 shellacking at Florida State that extended its losing streak to three.
The Tar Heels had lost four straight before ripping visiting Boston College 34-10 last week.
Last season’s 43-35 UNC win in Chapel Hill ended a string of five straight Wolfpack victories, but the Tar Heels lead the series 64-32-6. UNC is listed as a 5 1/2-point favorite.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of a rivalry that's been around for over 100 years - the 103rd meeting,” Doeren said. “Both teams are battling hard. I know it means a lot to our fan base, former players, current players and coaches. It will be a hard-fought game. I'm really excited to be a part of it. I've been in a lot of good rivalry games.
“I knew when I moved here that being in a rivalry game that is only 30 minutes apart is unique. I remember when I was at USC, UCLA was right down the street, that was a really unique rivalry. This is similar to that. You run into their coaches all the time. Our players run into their players. You can't go to a grocery store without seeing fans from both schools. It's very unique from that standpoint.”
Pete Thomas has completed 117 of 192 passes for 1314 yards with three TDs and eight interceptions for the Wolfpack. Shadrach Thornton has carried 68 times for 357 yards and four TDs, while Bryan Underwood has caught 32 passes for 382 yards and one TD.
“Well, preparation-wise there is no difference (for an archrival),” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “The difference is when you get out on the field on Saturday. That's when all of that emotion and all of that excitement comes through, and then it boils down to, ‘How do you handle it? Do you go out there and you lose your mind or do you focus and you do your job and you're able to make decisions under duress?’
“And that's when your mental toughness shows up. But I mean, to me it's just the fun part about college football - having those regional rivalries and everything that goes with them.”
Bryn Renner has completed 137 of 209 passes for 1641 yards with 10 TDs and four interceptions for the Tar Heels. A.J. Blue has carried 65 times for 249 yards and a TD, while Eric Ebron has caught 35 passes for 599 yards and three TDs.
Last week’s three stars:
1. Kelby Brown, LB, Duke. The junior had 14 tackles including one for loss in the 13-10 shocker at Virginia Tech. He was named the Walter Camp Foundation’s national defensive player of the week.
2. Kareem Martin, DE, UNC. The senior had five tackles including a pair of third-down sacks in the Tar Heels’ victory, earning ACC defensive lineman of the week honors.
3. Ross Martin, PK, Duke. The sophomore kicked field goals of 51 and 53 yards in the win over Virginia Tech to become the first player in the country this season to kick two field goals of more than 50 yards in the same game and become ACC specialist of the week.