Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, November 18th, Noon
Records: UNC 1-9, 0-6 ACC. NC State 3-7, 2-5 ACC
A game like this usually results in a search for meaning. There is quest to try and ascertain what two rivals, both bowl ineligible and riding significant losing streaks could be playing for in such a game. Simply saying they are playing for bragging rights is cliched and overused. Everyone knows that is the overarching element in this game the same way it is for any rivalry game. However on this weekend where two of the biggest football rivals in the nation meet on the field with stakes that go beyond the rivalry itself Tar Heel Fan asks what are NC State and UNC playing for here.
UNC is looking to win one purely for sentimentality. This is John Bunting's last game in Kenan Stadium and also the last time he will take on the Wolfpack in a competitive fashion. If there is anyone who understands the meaning of beating a rival it is Bunting who will look for a small measure of redemption in beating NC State and Duke before he hands the keys to Butch Davis. In a season so steeped in misery, the next two games are the only thing UNC football fans and the team itself have to walk away with something significant. Granted this will not erase the epic beating at Clemson or the humiliation in Charlottesville but by beating NC State and Duke we can walk away from this season with a winning feeling and knowledge that we won the two games that have the most emotional meaning for the fans. For John Bunting it is one last chance to walk off the field at Kenan a winner and knowing that for all the trouble he had winning games in Chapel Hill, he can at least be comforted by the fact that he owned Chuck Amato to the tune of 4-2.
Forget all of that sentimental stuff, Chuck Amato is trying to save his own hide here. Of course losing this game does not necessarily send Amato to the unemployment line but if anyone remembers how Wolfpack nation reacted after losing to UNC in basketball last spring, this will pale in comparison to that. The reason being is that in so many ways this is far worse. UNC is 1-9 and has been the very picture of a horrible football team up until the Wake Forest game. However, the perception of UNC's ineptitude has not gone away and for NC State to leave Chapel Hill with a third straight loss would be enough to send some Wolfpack fans into a frenzy. NC State is favored and what is more losing tomorrow drops them to 3-8 which is only one game worse than UNC. It will be their sixth straight loss ever since the two big wins over FSU and BC that resulted in everyone believing the Wolfpack were ACC title game material. In other words this is a tipping point game. If Amato loses this one, he may have no recourse back to viability. Yes, Lee Fowler will most likely hold on to him but on a variety of levels he will be DOA in the eyes of many in Wolfpack nation. And if I am being honest let me just say I think that would be extremely entertaining to watch.
Something has to give in this game and someone is going to get off their respective snide unless the game is tied at the end of regulation and the game is then postponed for inclement weather which actually may be a more fitting end. UNC has improved their defense since firing Bunting(go figure) and needs to find some offense on the same day the defense plays well. NC State has no offense to speak of and really hasn't had much of one for about a season and a half now. Defensively the Pack are still a solid team. In other words we have a lot of different parts for each team due to break out of their respecitive slumps. The result of that is total insanity.
UNC 24 NC State 23