South Carolina 21, North Carolina 15

Over the summer I kept see the same reasoning for why N.C. State's performance this year would be a good deal better than in 2006. The argument went that since the Wolfpack lost so many close games, their luck was bound to regress to the mean, the ball would bounce their way, and they'd be at least a six or seven win team. I didn't particularly buy it at the time - and I gleefully note the folks in Raleigh have yet to live up to such predictions. Close losses don't always mean equally matched teams were on the field, and a poorer team could just as well overachieve to lose by three when talentwise they should have been blown out by seventeen.

That being said, I'm significantly more sympathetic to that line of thought now. With the exception of the South Florida blowout, all of UNC's losses have been by seven points or less, and in each UNC had opportunities to win and yet fell short. And the South Carolina game was the worst so far.

The Tar Heels outgained the seventh-ranked team in the country by over a hundred yards. Their defense allowed one third down conversion the entire game, and held the Gamecocks to 62 yards of total offense in the second half. And the offense did their best to support this performance, bursting past the USC 35 five times in the fourth quarter, but only netting 12 points and ending three drives without a score. Add to that the early missed field goal and interception at the South Carolina 25, plus the botched extra-point snap and it's not hard to see why Carolina fans are busy thinking what if.

Once again, the biggest difference between this year's team and the last is the ability to bounce back in the second half. UNC has come out of the locker room down 16-7, 20-6, 7-3 and this week 21-3. Last season those were preludes to routs; this year they're motivations for late-game comebacks. So if the summer of 2008 comes and I'm pointing to this game as evidence of next season's return to prominence, try not to relish in my hypocrisy too much, all right?

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