ACC Football Preview: UNC vs. Duke
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó North Carolinaís seniors have seen the program go from on-the-rise status under Butch Davis to one thatís just starting to dig out from the aftermath of an NCAA investigation.
Still, in a year that began with Davisí firing, the Tar Heels enter todayís finale against Duke with a chance to end this year with the same win total of the previous three seasons.
North Carolina (6-5, 2-5 ACC) needs to beat the Blue Devils (3-8, 1-6) for the eighth straight year then win a bowl game to reach that eight-win mark. And considering the turmoil that has hovered over the program for the past two seasons, interim coach Everett Withers said it would be a big accomplishment.
ěI would hope people would look at a resilient group, a group that obviously had some talented players in it and hopefully theyíve grown up from the time they walked on this campus to now,î Withers said about a senior class playing its final game in Kenan Stadium. ěIím sure all these guys will take away a sense that theyíve accomplished a lot.î
North Carolinaís 17 seniors have combined for more than 200 career starts. Theyíve helped the program become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, though 16 of their wins from 2008 and 2009 were vacated by the school as a penalty following the NCAA probe into improper benefits and academic misconduct.
ěTheyíve gone through a lot of adversity since theyíve been here,î UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said. ěWe really just want to send them out on a good note.î
The Tar Heels entered the week with several questions, from the health of top rusher Giovani Bernard to Withersí uncertain future. Bernard, at least, is no longer a worry; the Tar Heels didnít list him on Thursdayís injury report following his mild concussion suffered at Virginia Tech last week. As for Withers, he said his 11 games as a first-time head coach had been ěa good experienceî though he wouldnít speculate about whether heís done enough to keep the job.
Instead, heís more focused on reversing his teamís monthlong slide. The Tar Heels have lost four of five games, while the only win came when a normally sure-handed Wake Forest team committed a season-high five turnovers.
Facing Duke has turned out well of late for the Tar Heels, though. Theyíve won 20 of 21 meetings and had a 100-yard rusher in six of the last seven. Winning this one would give North Carolina six home victories in a season for the first time since 1993.
In the past six meetings, five have been decided by eight or fewer points. Last year, UNC won at Duke 24-19 to keep the Victory Bell.
Those close losses have been a recurring problem for David Cutcliffeís Blue Devils, who have lost six straight since a 3-2 start. Three of those six have been a touchdown or less. Last week, Duke lost 38-31 to Georgia Tech when Sean Renfree threw an interception in the final minute to end Dukeís last drive.
While the Blue Devils again head to a bowl-less season, they said beating the Tar Heels could carry some positive feelings into the offseason.
ěI think whether itís a rivalry game or not, the last game of the year will stay with you a long time,î Cutcliffe said. ěIíve been used to that last game is the bowl game, and when you come back in your offseason conditioning program, for the returning squad I think itís huge.
ěThen you have one last game of your career. And the score never changes. The results never go away, and we all remember them.î
The Associated Press