On Thursday night UNC will travel down 15-501 to face Duke in a nationally televised game with ACC title game implications. Oh, did I mention this was in football? Just an indication of how the landscape for college football has changed both in the ACC and in North Carolina, UNC vs Duke is now a high stakes affair with plenty of consequences for both.
1. UNC can become bowl eligible
UNC has two chances to win its sixth game but this is the first. In an ideal world it's better to clinch a key win on the first opportunity rather that put all the eggs in one proverbial basket. Granted of the two opportunities UNC has to get to six wins, this game is probably the more difficult of the two. UNC gets NC State at home the Saturday after Thanksgiving so a loss to Duke isn't the worst possible outcome but it does open the door to great possibilities down the line
2. A win could be the first step towards UNC having a respectable season
Let's be real. Going 6-6 makes a team bowl eligible but it's also a little like barely passing a test. Given UNC's situation with NCAA sanctions and the challenges it has created, 6-6 isn't an awful outcome. Still, there could be an opportunity to do more. A win against Duke gives UNC a shot at finishing the regular season at 7-5 and a bowl win would lift the Heels to 8-5. Considering UNC was 2-4 and has a defense that routinely sets records for futility, the notion the Heels could finish with 7-8 wins is a tad ridiculous. It is also could be real possibility if UNC can knock off Duke.
3. Larry Fedora is 0-2 against Duke
Larry Fedora broke UNC's five game losing streak to NC State but has yet to beat David Cutcliffe and Duke. Both the losses have been close and this game stands to be much the same. Fedora is not yet facing questions about his job security or would a third loss to Duke necessarily raise such questions. At the same time Duke also stands in stark contrast to what UNC should be. The Blue Devils don't recruit at the same level as UNC yet over the past three season have performed at a much higher level. UNC sanctions are partly to blame but comparing the programs is unavoidable. A win over Duke when the Blue Devils have been established all season as the better team would temporary stop the bleeding.
4. Duke can clinch the Coastal Division
Georgia Tech is 6-2 and has completed its ACC schedule. Duke is 4-2 with UNC and Wake Forest remaining on the schedule and owns the tiebreaker over the Yellow Jackets. Since Duke is likely to beat Wake Forest, this game essentially determines whether the Blue Devils will face Florida State in Charlotte for a second straight year. That puts UNC in the position to be spoil Duke's ACC title game dreams. Yes, we are actually talking about UNC playing spoiler to Duke's division title hopes in football. These games happen frequently between UNC and Duke in basketball. For a second straight season, UNC has a shot to keep Duke out of the ACC Championship.
5. The Victory Bell
After holding onto the Victory Bell for 20 of 21 seasons, the symbol of the UNC-Duke rivalry has resided in Durham hued in the wrong shade of blue. This egregious crime against all things decent should be corrected and as soon as possible.