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UNC football should continue rivalry game success

The Tar Heels should again come away with bragging rights in the 2016 season.

North Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

North Carolina football has steadily improved each year under Larry Fedora. With more wins and national spotlight comes bigger and loftier expectations. Many fans want, and even expect, an ACC Championship Game appearance and a respected bowl game in January. Still, amongst all that development and hope for national relevance, Tar Heels everywhere continue to have two other important demands: beat hated rivals Duke and NC State.

In the four years since Fedora took charge in Chapel Hill, UNC has gone 2-2 against Duke and 3-1 against NC State. There have been blowouts on both sides, bizarre performances, and one spectacular, legacy-defining game-winning play. Year to year, there has been very little consistency when North Carolina plays one of the two schools. UNC has lost when it was clearly the better team and vice versa.

Interestingly, or maybe not given Carolina’s lackluster home crowd, where the game has been played hasn’t mattered all that much either. In eight games played, the home team is only 3-5. Simply put, none of three have been able to take hold of the rivalry on the football field.

Nonetheless, last season saw a more definitive picture take hold. In by far the best season in recent memory, UNC only lost one game in conference play (to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game) and really began to assert itself as the best football squad in the whole state. This type of play translated to the rivalry games as well, although the NC State game in Raleigh presented another similarly odd and frustrating performance by the Heels.

When UNC played Duke in early November in Chapel Hill, the Heels were on a seven-game winning streak. However, they were easy games that Carolina was largely expected to win, and many people were expecting a letdown when they would finally face a competitive defense. That didn’t happen. UNC absolutely rocked the Blue Devils, leading 38-10 at half. The final score? 66-31. Marquise Williams arguably had the best game of his entire career (494 yards and 4 TD’s), and Carolina loudly declared itself the Tobacco Road football power.

Weirdly, in the final game of the regular season, the Heels had a much more difficult time with NC State. Despite NC State not being a great football team (finishing 7-6 overall and 3-5 in ACC play), they nearly broke Tar Heels’ hearts everywhere with an impressive second half performance. The first half was all UNC (35-14 at half), and it appeared to be another typical 2015 offensive explosion by the Heels. Well, the offense stalled in the second half, and Carolina was fortunate to not have given away the game. Still, the final score (45-34) showed another impressive win for UNC in a rivalry game.

For this upcoming season, North Carolina again should be favored against Duke and NC State. As the conference’s best challenger to the continued dominance of Clemson and Florida State, UNC and Fedora have finally hit a groove of sustained recruiting and on-field success. The Heels will be extremely talented on both sides of the field with quarterback Marquise Williams being the only major loss. The school is well-represented on the All-ACC preseason list (Elijah Hood, Ryan Switzer & Des Lawrence), while Duke and NC State don’t have a single representative.

Bragging rights will always be important in the state of North Carolina. In basketball, even when North Carolina or Duke have a much better record by the end of the year, one win over the rival can make a world of difference. As UNC begins to become more and more respected in football, Duke and NC State would love nothing more to knock them off and ruin their entire season. For now, though, Fedora’s program is the class of the state, and that means big wins in rivalry games.