Picture a football team, off to a bit of a rough start. Injuries plague them early; they open the conference slate with three straight losses and are pretty much written off for the season. Bowl eligibility hang by a thread, and it's still October. But wait – a key player returns, and the team begins to win games. They rattle of four straight conference wins, solidify their bowl berth and head towards the next season full of promise and excitement.
It's the story of this year's Carolina team, but it's also last year's Wolfpack team. It also ends badly, as Russell Wilson is re-injured in the bowl game, the team loses to Rutgers, and spends the subsequent season plagued gain by injuries and a poor defense. They now sit 4-7 overall and tied for last in the ACC, with their only win against equally hapless Maryland.
(Cheer up though. The above story equally applies to Rutgers, who finished their season with a seven game winning streak, and are now 8-3 against an admittedly laughable schedule.)
There's not much similarity between the two teams at all, actually. The Wolfpack lost the biggest name on their team, the aforementioned Russell Wilson, and the '08 team was entirely different once he returned. UNC's injuries were concentrated in an offensive line that never made headlines, and the Heels resurgence is half because there are more healthy bodies and half due to the fact the offense has been redesigned to cope with a porous front seven. Note also that the Wolfpack defense was never particularly strong last year, and injuries have made it downright pathetic in 2009.
This game is essentially a repeat of the Florida State game back in October, without that meddlesome fantastic offense to make it difficult for the Heels. Russell Wilson is still impressive behind center, and he leads the league in passing touchdowns, but he's had to force things a bit more and more passes have found their way their way into opposing hands. The running game is worse than Carolina's. The defense is worse than some high school teams. The fans have despaired. Their only hope is for the Heels to come in unfocused and unprepared.
Fat chance of that happening. Carolina players have spent the week answering questions about 41-10, the most lopsided game of last season. A game where the defense was blown off the field, at home, and they damn well remember it. This is State's bowl game, but it's UNC's redemption game, and the Heels aren't leaving Carter-Finley with a loss.