War of words.
Following UNC's craptastic beatdown at the hands of NC State on Saturday, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien went before the media and made this proclaimation:
"We're the best football program in the state, without question. We are the state university and we expect to be here."
Pretty bold stuff there, especially before the 2nd season for you and your counterpart in Chapel Hill is even finished. Butch Davis responded in his Monday press conference by channelling Lee Corso and saying, "not so fast my friend."
Last Saturday they were the best football team, there’s no question about it. I think that before you, before anybody can anoint themselves, I would say that there probably needs to be some time invested into the programs and then we’ll see what happens
I am going to shock you by saying Davis' assessment is correct. And not because he is the head coach at UNC but because I tend to be a big picture, long term thinker. This is only the 2nd season for both coaches, so the jury still has not decided what they want for lunch yet. Yes, without question NC State has been the best team on the field when they share it with UNC two years running. And it is duly acknowledged that NC State swept the other three DI football programs in the state giving them claim to the mythical state championship. None of these items are in dispute and if Wolfpack fans wish to beat their chests and howl to the sky, they are certainly entitled since they took care of business on the field. However, to declare NC State is the best program in the state which accounts for the overall state of the team in all facets from recruiting down the performance over the course the coaches' tenure then O'Brien probably ought to take a step back.
The facts on the ground are that UNC is presently 7-4 and was in position to go to the ACC Championship Game had they kept their act together. Unfortuantely things sort of fell apart after the reached 7-2 overall. We spend a week dissecting what the heck went wrong but it really would not mattered. The team let up, it happens, it is blame the coaches have to bear and also something they must ensure will not happen again. The Heels have an important game left to play versus Duke and should they win they will be 8-4 and likely headed to the Champs Sports Bowl. Granted it is not the Chick-Fil-A Bowl but it is still a decent berth. NC State on the other hand needs a win over Miami just to get bowl eligible. If this looks familiar, it should since they put themselves in the same position last season and got drummed 37-0 by Maryland at home to end their season at 5-7. Now I happen to think they will give Miami fits considering Georgia Tech did and Russell Wilson is a better passer than anyone the Jackets have. But, should the Pack lay an egg a 2nd season in a row with a bowl on the line and UNC handles Duke for a trip to Orlando then that bear consideration in this discussion. Why? Because UNC gets to go to a bowl while NC State gets sit around and talk about how great it was they beat UNC 41-10. That sounds like fairly limited success to me.
It is also important to remember that the statement O'Brien made was not simply a statement of fact for the world to hear but rather intended for in-state recruits. If you have bothered to check the current list of commits for each schools Davis is destroying O'Brien securing the top rated recruits within North Carolina.
(Let me state right now that football commits and rankings are to be viewed with a level of skepticism but since they are all we have, it will serve as the basis for this discussion.)
Based on Scout.com's present rankings here is what the in-state recruiting war looks like.
Five Star Recruits: 1
Four Star Recruits: 4
Three Star Recruits: 6
Recruits In-State Three Stars or Better: 11
Five Star Recruits: 0
Four Star Recruits: 0
Three Star Recruits:2
Recruits In-State Three Stars or Better: 2
As I said above, this requires a grain of salt when looking at however this is also is part of the public perception. There is also a second element to this and that is whether a coach can develop players while also integrating them into effective offensive and defensive units. Since O'Brien was successful at Boston College we know he can do this quite well since he is accustomed to not getting highly rated talent given the academic restrictions at BC. What you see above might be a tad deceiving because O'Brien has shown an ability to get by with less in the past. That being said the ratings are not complete crap. They will be dead on about some of these players and dead wrong about others. UNC will also have two star recruits who end up being great players just like they will have highly rated players who end up being busts. And if UNC has five recruits with four stars or better who live up to snuff and the Pack has zero, guess which team will likely end up with the more talented squad on the field. In other words I like Davis' starting point if this is how the recruiting shakes out. Granted it is not over yet and LOI still need to be signed but at present Davis looks great recruiting when compared to O'Brien using the only rankings available to us.
The point is the same as the one Davis made. It is still early. Two wins over UNC does not make you the best program in the state since judging a program goes beyond winning against one rival. How well a team recruits and develops players, whether they are in contention to win the conference title and overall record from season are all factors in judging a program. NC State fans should note the tenure of their last coach, who after three season ruled the roost in Raleigh. NC State went toe-to-toe with FSU, had shots at the ACC title, beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl to finish 11-3 and after 3-4 seasons of Amato people in Raleigh were drinking the Kool-Aid straight from Chuckles' red shoes. What was the state of the program three years later? Yeah, not so hot.
Look at it this way. In three years, assuming both coaches are still at their respective schools, if NC State is posting a better overall record, generally seen to have better players, finishing ahead of UNC in the ACC and winning the head-to-head then O'Brien is perfectly entitled to say his program is the best in the state. Until then I would suggest the Wolfpack focus on Miami or 37-0 might happen again.