I think so and mind you it is not over yet, unlike the team in Raleigh that won yesterday.
At the start of the season if I put the names Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and NCSU in front of you and asked for UNC's record in those four games what would you have said? I would have said 2-2 easy. I would have banked on beating UVa and NCSU but losing to VT and Miami. As it turns out UNC did the opposite on the way to a 2nd straight eight win season. The way people are talking, you would think they would have rather gone 1-3 in those games as long as the one win was over NCSU.
How about this? Mack Brown lost his first five games against NCSU. Yes, the first two were the 1-10 seasons but the last three were seasons UNC had winning records. In 1992, UNC lost to NCSU and ended up being 9-3 overall after winning the Peach Bowl. You know what else? Mack Brown ended his career at UNC winning the final five games versus the Wolfpack winning a combined 21 games over the final two seasons before leaving to take the Texas job.
Here is my point. Yes, beating NCSU matters but only because of proximity. Losing to NCSU does hurt in raw emotional terms, it hurts for the players and it sucks for the fans. It sucks for fans, like me, who have to endure co-workers running their mouth about it. The water cooler aspect of this game makes it tougher to swallow and in your mind you are tempted to taint the whole season over it. Which leads to this question: When I mention UNC's 1992 season in which they finished 9-3 what do you remember most? Do you remember the loss to NCSU? I don't. I was surprised to find out Mack Brown lost his first five versus NCSU because I knew the 9-3 season was in there. You know what I remember most about the 1992 season? Winning an epic Peach Bowl. Call it the "Roy Williams ACC Tournament Rule" if you will and that is the big picture ultimately matters more.
Truthfully speaking, from a big picture standpoint, UNC fans should be more pissed that this loss cost UNC a shot at the Gator or Champs Sports Bowls more so than the loss to NCSU. Now please understand this point because I am not veering into Herb Sendek territory here. The game versus NCSU is extremely important. I think it matters to some extent where in-state recruiting goes. It is important to the fans and I think it is important to the players. From everything I saw yesterday, UNC played the game with the emotion and urgency you would expect in the rivalry game. In fact that appeared to be part of the problem. The Heels were a little too amped up. So I have no complaints about how Butch Davis or the team approached the game. I mean it is not like UNC mailed it in the way Clemson and Georgia Tech did because they both were looking to next week. So, yes UNC needs to win this game for all the intangible reasons but also for the tangible ones which gets back to the big picture.
At the end of the day building the program will take care of this as it did for Mack Brown. Now, Brown was focused on winning the in-state games because he felt it helped recruiting. I don't think Butch Davis would argue with that and as I indicated I did not see anything in this year's edition that made me think UNC was not approaching the game as it should have been. However the overarching point remains and that is UNC wins this game by being a better football program. Back-to-back eight win seasons is part of that. Going to bowl games is part of that. And as we sit back to contemplate the season it is important to understand that for all the meaning, most of it emotional, attached to the NCSU game it is still a part of the whole. Yes it sucks to lose to the Wolfpack but not getting to nine wins should bother us more with the water cooler factor being nothing more than salt in the wound.
And one more thing. StateFansNation, as a part of their coverage, decided to dip into the message boards and post some lunatic ravings about wanting Butch Davis gone and nonsense such as that. First of all: Pot? The kettle called and said, dang are you black! Seriously, NCSU fans pointing fingers at UNC fans for making over the top statements about getting rid of a successful coach makes my head hurt. Secondly, it is the message boards. They are an incubator for stupidity such as this. Every fan base has crazies and cherry picking quotes to post on a blog proves nothing. And finally, for those UNC fans out there whining about Butch Davis not beating NCSU and using that as some standard to determine his success in Chapel Hill. ARE YOU FREAKING NUTS? Listen, it hurts. Emotions are raw. Things were said. Undoubtedly SUV windows were smashed in by golf clubs. However, this team won eight games with one of the worst offenses in the country. That is two straight seasons of winning eight games and going to a bowl after years in the wilderness with Carl Torbush and TCWSNBN. Things are looking it up even if this game did not work out.
At some point we might need to have a conversation about Butch Davis winning crucial games or winning the NCSU game but not yet.