UNC is on a three-game winning streak as the Tar Heels find out the final decisions on all those players caught up in the agent and academic investigations.
And Duke, the only Division I home team playing in the Triangle on Saturday, just hopes to get its four-game losing streak stopped after a bye week.
Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack has been the surprise team in North Carolina this season and needs just one win to qualify for a bowl spot, but has its bitterest non-conference rival in the way. State will visit East Carolina, where first-year coach Ruffin McNeill is still looking for a signature victory.
“We know how important this football game is within our state, and certainly they’re coming off a great victory Saturday night down in Hattiesburg (in a 44-43 win over Southern Mississippi),” O’Brien said. “I think home field should be an advantage, especially if you have great fans and they have great fans down in Greenville. It’s a packed house and a tough ticket to get.”
The game used to be an annual event in Raleigh, back when the Wolfpack had a much bigger stadium than the Pirates. Now that Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium hosts 50,000, ECU has been able to host both N.C. State and UNC on a regular basis in recent years.
“I’m looking forward to getting N.C. State to Dowdy-Ficklen,” said McNeill, who was 2-2 against the Wolfpack as a player. “We had to go over there the whole time when I was playing here. We know it’s going to be an exciting game against a great football team. N.C. State is playing well. They’re well coached with many good coaches on the staff. We’re looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.”
UNC has had plenty of meetings in both states against Virginia, which is, yes, its most ancient rival and the Tar Heels’ road opponent on Saturday night. But the Tar Heels haven’t won in Charlottesville since Ronald Reagan’s first year as President, 14 meetings dating back to 1981.
“As we take a look at Virginia, I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they’ve played this year. They were in a position to win at Southern Cal (in a 17-14 loss),” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “Obviously (under new coach Mike London) they’re in a schematic change from previous years, but they’re using their personnel very, very well. They’ll put up one of the biggest defensive lines we’ve played against all season.
“We’ve gone up there once. Sometimes you don’t win because you don’t have enough talent and sometimes you don’t win because you make mistakes. But what happened 10 years ago shouldn’t have any relevance.”
The Tar Heels will again play without former player Marvin Austin, who has now been dismissed permanently from the team, while Greg Little and Robert Quinn were ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA after receiving gifts from agents and then making false statements about it. None of the three had played this season.
UNC did get some good news on Thursday when senior tailback Ryan Houston was cleared to play for the first time this season on Saturday.
Duke has been completely free from scandal, but is also on an eight-game losing streak against Division I-FBS opponents. The Blue Devils will be major underdogs at home against Miami.
“It was a great opportunity for us last week to be open, have a little physical healing and emotional healing and re-gather ourselves and re-evaluate what we’re doing well and what we need to do better,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re playing an extremely talented Miami team, one that’s probably pretty upset from their last ball game. They’re a huge challenge for us, but we’re anxious to get back on the field and compete and see where we are as a team.
“I think the attitude is positive. I think the confidence was hit pretty hard. It can happen to you and it did. We didn’t play well defensively early and lately we haven’t been as good as we needed to be offensively. But you fight through it.”
N.C. State vs. East Carolina
[Saturday, noon, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium]
NCSU leads 16-10.
Records: NCSU 5-1; ECU 3-2.
Audio: WRBZ-AM 850, WRAL-FM 101.5, XM 191, Sirius 213.
Video: CBS College Sports.
Coaches’ records — NCSU: Tom O’Brien 96-67, 21-22 at NCSU; ECU: Ruffin McNeill 4-2, 3-2 at ECSU
Leading rushers — NCSU: Mustafa Greene 69-344, 4 TD; ECU: Jonathan Williams 70-331, 4 TD.
Leading passers — NCSU: Russell Wilson 144-242-1802-6, 17 TD; ECU: Dominique Davis 136-216-1439-9, 14 TD.
Leading receivers — NCSU: Owen Spencer 28-426, 1 TD; ECU: Dwayne Harris 40-457, 5 TD.
Leading tacklers — NCSU: Nate Irving 46, 7 1/2 TFL, 3 ½ SK, 1 FF, 1 FR; ECU: Dustin Lineback 22, 3 TFL, 1 ½ SK.
Favorite — NCSU by 7 ½ (Vegas).
Duke vs. Miami
[Saturday, 1 p.m., Wallace Wade Stadium]
Miami leads series 6-1.
Records: Duke 1-4, 0-2 ACC; Miami 3-2, 1-1.
Audio: WDNC 620, WRBZ 850, XM 193, Sirius 215.
Coaches’ records — Duke: David Cutcliffe 54-48, 10-19 at Duke; Miami: Randy Shannon 24-19 at Miami.
Leading rushers — Duke: Desmond Scott 51-291, 2 TD; Miami: Damien Berry 87-428, 2 TD.
Leading passers — Duke: Sean Renfree 121-206-1464-10, 9 TD; Miami: Jacory Harris 87-166-1120-9, 10 TD.
Leading receivers — Duke: Conner Vernon 34-548, 3 TD; Miami: Leonard Hankerson 28-460, 6 TD.
Leading tacklers — Duke: Abraham Kromah 46, 4 TFL, 1 INT; Miami: Sean Spence 44, 9 TFL, 1 ½ SK, 1 FF.
Favorite — Miami by 19 ½ (Vegas).
UNC vs. Virginia
[Saturday, 6 p.m., Scott Stadium]
UNC leads series 57-53-4.
Records: UNC 3-2, 1-1 ACC; UVa 2-3, 0-2.
Audio: WCHL 1360, WRDU-FM 106.1, XM 192, Sirius 214.
Coaches’ records — UNC: Butch Davis 74-40, 23-20 at UNC; UVa: Mike London 26-8, 2-3 at UVa.
Leading rushers — UNC: Johnny White 73-407, 4 TD; UVa: Keith Payne 60-295, 7 TD.
Leading passers — UNC: T.J. Yates 104-160-1170-1, 8 TD; UVa: Marc Verica 89-155-1147-3, 6 TD.
Leading receivers — UNC: Jheranie Boyd 12-297, 3 TD; UVa: Kris Burd 23-381, 4 TD.
Leading tacklers — UNC: Kevin Reddick 28, 3 TFL, 1 INT; UVa: Cam Johnson 30, 9 TFL, 4 ½ SK, 2 FR.
Favorite — UNC by 6 1/2.