Time was when the annual season-ending battle between Duke and UNC was the biggest football game of the year in the Triangle.
And this time, the “Battle of the Blues” for the coveted Victory Bell is back, although it has a little different twist.
This time it’s the Tar Heels’ turn to play spoiler.
No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) is having its best season since the ACC was formed, and the Blue Devils will play No. 2 Florida State for the conference championship Dec. 7 in Charlotte if they win today.
Duke has won seven straight games, two more than the five-game streak of UNC (6-5, 4-3) since the Tar Heels’ snakebitten and disastrous-looking 1-5 start.
Game time is noon (ESPN2) at Kenan Stadium, which may end up being a hard sellout for the first time for a Duke game in a very long time.
There is one other game in the Triangle today, as N.C. State (3-8, 0-7) hosts Maryland (6-5, 2-5) at 12:30 (WRAL) at Carter-Finley Stadium. It’s the Terps’ final ACC conference football game before their move to the Big Ten next year.
UNC vs. Duke
The Blue Devils really are having their best season since 1941. They have never had a 10-win season, and are already assured of their second straight bowl appearance for the first time in school history.
With a win, Duke would play the Seminoles for a spot in the Orange Bowl next week. Lose, and they’re still going to a pretty good bowl game.
UNC, which will go for its sixth straight winning season “on the field” and fourth straight overall today. Word seems to be that the Tar Heels are a favorite of the Belk Bowl this time, and a 7-5 UNC team on a six-game win streak would be a more attractive product in Charlotte than a 6-6 squad.
UNC, which had won eight straight in the series before Duke’s 33-30 win in Durham last season, leads the series 48-37-4. The Tar Heels are listed as six-point favorites.
Anthony Boone has completed 134 of 203 passes for 1421 yards and eight TDs with nine interceptions for the Blue Devils. Jela Duncan has rushed 99 times for 521 yards and three TDs, while Jamison Crowder has caught 83 passes for 1077 yards and five TDs.
“I’m really excited for our players that they get an opportunity to play in a game that’s this challenging,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I think that’s great for all of us and certainly great for the young people. They’ve known that if you can win a game in a meaningful time of the year, the next game gets bigger.
“What it ended up being is two teams that are on a win streak, that are playing as well as anybody in the league coming together, and it happens to be a rival game and it happens to be on a holiday weekend. They were able to write their own story and write their own challenge, and that’s what this ultimately is. To get outside of just being Duke and North Carolina, you really don’t have to to make it a big game.”
Marquise Williams has completed 90 of 248 passes for 1304 yards and 13 TDs with four interceptions, also rushing 86 times for 386 yards and four TDs for the Tar Heels. Eric Ebron has caught 50 passes for 774 yards and three TDs.
“We’re looking forward to our final home game here in Kenan Stadium in the Tar Pit in front of our fans and our students,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Having the opportunity to play Duke in this last game and especially the importance of this game because we have continued to become a better football team and improve. Duke is playing extremely well, having a historic season, so it should be a heck of a ball game and we’re looking forward to it,
“They’re a good football team. The way the league has gone, it’s come down to the wire — at least it did last year and now it’s doing it again this year. I think anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday. If your team keeps believing and keeps playing well you can put yourself in that position and that’s what they’ve done.”
N.C. State vs. Maryland
The Wolfpack is hoping just to finish Coach Dave Doeren’s first season without a bad taste in the mouth.
There’s nothing State can do about being the first Wolfpack team to lose to Wake Forest, UNC, Duke and East Carolina in the same season. But it can avoid becoming the first Wolfpack team to go winless in the conference since 1959.
State leads the series 33-32-4 and has won two straight. Maryland is listed as a 2½-point favorite.
Pete Thomas has completed 149 of 247 passes for 1667 yards and four TDs with nine interceptions for the Wolfpack. Shadrach Thornton has rushed 147 times for 672 yards and four TDs, while Rashard Smith has caught 43 passes for 362 yards and two TDs.
“It’s senior week and Thanksgiving week,” Doeren said. “It’s an honor to be in this week of the season as a coach, you go through a series of lasts with guys who have put in a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of work, like everybody who goes to college, a lot of growth in their time at N.C. State. I know a lot of the guys - even though I’ve only had them nine to ten months - have grown a lot this year.
“As a coach it’s always one of the biggest honors to send those guys out the way they want to be with a win. That will be our entire mindset of the week, helping our seniors walk out of Carter-Finley the way they want to - playing the game the right way, playing for each other.”
C.J. Brown has completed 139 of 233 passes for 86 yards and nine TDs with six interceptions for Maryland. Brandon Ross has rushed 126 times for 629 yards and four TDs, while Levern Jacobs has caught 34 passes for 472 yards and two TDs.
Last week’s three stars
1. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke. The junior caught 10 passes for 121 yards and two TDs in the 28-21 win at Wake Forest. He earned ACC receiver of the week honors.
2. T.J. Logan, RB, UNC. The freshman rushed 14 times for 137 yards and three TDs, also returning a kickoff 99 yards for a TD in the Tar Heels’ 80-20 win over Old Dominion. He earned ACC rookie of the week honors.
3. Anthony Boone, QB, Duke. He completed 24 of 29 passes for 256 yards and three TDs, also rushing seven times for 57 yards.