Rivalry Between Tar Heels and Wolfpack Still Matters

mcclendon-fumble - unc vs nc stateEarlier this week there had been lots of talk of the state of the North Carolina and North Carolina State rivalry being in decline. This was attributed to both teams struggling as well as the lack of trash talk leading up to the game. Since then, a few rivalry week shenanigans have gone on, but nothing that moves the needle beyond a needless discussion of a midfield logo. However, that does not mean that this game has no importance beyond bragging rights this year.

I can certainly understand the nation (and even the rest of the ACC) not caring much for this game. With a combined 5-9 record, both teams have been utterly disappointing. Both teams’ best performances came in nationally televised losses to top 10 teams. There has not been much to get anyone excited so far, especially outside of the Old North State, but to say that the game is not important this year is a stretch. There is a lot more than bragging rights on the line in tomorrow’s matchup.

For starters, this could be the game, for either team, that propels them to a winning streak and bowl eligibility. For the loser, the puts the season on the brink of failure with little-to-no room for error the rest of the way. While a bowl game for a 6-6 or 7-5 ACC team may not be glamorous, it is extremely important both for program image and extra practice time.

With both teams under new regimes, the ability to sell making a bowl game at such an early stage to recruits is a big bonus. While Larry Fedora’s team finished 8-4 last season, they were not able to make a bowl trip due to sanctions from the Butch Davis era. Now, if they can reach bowl eligibility, Fedora can legitimately sell the recovery process from those sanctions. For Dave Doeren, reaching bowl status is a huge sell in the first year of what both he and Debbie Yow have deemed a rebuilding process. Doeren would now be able to sell getting his own guys in to play early as well as a successful foundation to build upon.

Another big bonus to qualifying for a bowl game is the extra practice time granted by the NCAA. This is one aspect where it is, perhaps, more important for Doeren and NC State to win this game and gain momentum. Whereas Fedora has had almost two full years with his team, Doeren is still getting used to these players and can begin to see who may be ready for bigger roles next season. An extra month of practice is key for the freshmen and sophomores.

On top of the more obvious significance of the game and its significance to the season, is the leg up it gives the winning coach in the race to building a strong program. While NC State claims North Carolina to be their state, it is, in reality, totally up for grabs. The Tar Heels can build on last year’s win, or NC State can prove that this is the start of a new era in Wolfpack football. A Doeren-Fedora rivalry would be great for the two programs, and it could all start tomorrow in Raleigh. If either program is going to awake from the constant labels of sleeping giants, this game could be the turning point.