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.
N.C. State has been able to coast through its first four women’s basketball games of the season, beating outgunned opposition by an average of 32 points.
The Wolfpack won’t likely win like that today.
This time first-year coach Wes Moore plays for the first time against a major opponent when Tulane (4-0) visits.
Wake Forest alum Lisa Stockton’s team, like the Wolfpack, was in the WNIT last season. But Tulane won 25 games.
This is the schools’ first meeting in women’s basketball. If State wins today, it could be considered one of the school’s best athletic victories since the baseball sub-regional last spring.
This time State establishes control in the first few minutes and holds a working margin throughout, cruising to a 59-46 victory.
For East Carolina (8-2) it has all been a pretty good dream. The Pirates already have a 55-31 rout at UNC under their belts, and look for the UNC-N.C. State sweep for the first time in school history.
But for N.C. State (3-7) it’s about ending a bad season on a good note. In Dave Doeren’s first season at the helm the Wolfpack is 0-7 in the ACC, on a six-game losing streak, and has to win today to avoid losing to all four FBS opponents in the state in the same season for the first time ever.
And it turns out to be a good day for the Pirates and a tough one for the Wolfpack, as ECU rolls 42-28.
Everybody has a game with more meaning to it than usual.
The biggest of all is for Duke, which will win the ACC’s Coastal Division if it can finish 10-2 by beating rivals Wake Forest on the road and UNC in Chapel Hill next week.
But UNC is playing for bowl qualification today. N.C. Central is playing its biggest rival of all — North Carolina A&T — and with a win would finish .500.
And N.C. State, where the season is already ruined, can leave the field feeling pretty good if the Wolfpack can upset non-conference rival East Carolina at Carter-Finley Stadium.
To sum it up UNC and N.C. State are at home while the two Durham schools are making short trips to the Triad. Since all four kickoffs are within an hour of each other, should we pity those who are traveling I-40 between Durham and Greensboro this afternoon and not heading to a football game?
UNC (5-5) will entertain Old Dominion (8-3) at noon at Kenan Stadium (FOX Sports Carolinas). And State (3-7) will entertain ECU (8-2) at 12:30 (WRAL).
Duke (8-2, 4-2 ACC) will visit Wake (4-6, 2-5) at noon at BB&T Field (ESPN2), while NCCU (5-6, 3-4 MEAC) will visit A&T at 1.
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State continues its early-season run of home games against Division I opponents from outside the “power conferences” as first-year mentor Wes Moore starts his tenure at the helm.
Tonight’s foe is Morgan State of the MEAC, which lost its opener at home to Lincoln (Pa.) of the CIAA.
The Wolfpack is 3-0, with easy wins over St. Bonaventure, Towson and Presbyterian under its belt.
This one is as easy as expected, as the Wolfpack rolls 94-52.
Over the past generation it has been common to see UNC and N.C. State zeroing in on bowl eligibility early and N.C. Central chasing a conference title and playoff berths while Duke is locking up yet another losing season.
Not this time.
Duke is the only team of the four that has assured itself of even a decent season, and is guaranteed its best finish since at least 1994 with a bowl bid already banked.
And today Duke will play its biggest game in a very, very long time.
The Blue Devils (7-2, 3-2 ACC) will take on No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) today at 3:30 (ESPNU) at Wallace Wade Stadium, and would get the inside track toward winning the ACC’s Coastal Division title — and a likely spot in the Orange Bowl — with a win.
Everybody else needs to play desperate football. The only other home game has N.C. Central (4-6, 2-4 MEAC) hosting Norfolk State (3-7, 3-3) at 2 p.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in a game the Eagles have to win to have a chance for a .500 season.
UNC (4-5, 3-3) will try to keep its hopes for a winning season alive when the Tar Heels visit ACC newcomer Pittsburgh (5-4, 2-3) at 12:30 p.m. (WRAL), while N.C. State (3-6, 0-6) will visit Boston College (5-4, 2-3) at the same time (Fox Sports Carolinas) needing to win out for a .500 record and possible bowl spot.
But with the expansion of the ACC to now 14 football teams, meetings between the Durham and Raleigh schools have become few and far between.
The series will resume after a three-year hiatus on a cool, cloudy day in front of a mostly full house, and the two teams have been headed in opposite directions.
Today, Duke breaks open a close game with three TDs in the final 3:31, two of them on interception returns from freshman DeVon Edwards in a 38-20 win.
That silliness ends today.
Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC) which still has a shot at its best season since the ACC was formed, will host N.C. State (3-5, 0-5) today at 4 at Wallace Wade Stadium in a game to be shown on ESPNU.
The matchup is one of two ACC games to be played in the Triangle today, as UNC (2-3, 3-5) will host reeling Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at 12:30 at Kenan Stadium in a game to be shown on WRAL.
N.C. Central (4-5, 2-3 MEAC) will travel to MEAC rival Hampton (3-6, 3-2) at 1 p.m.
The wait is over for fans of ACC women’s basketball.
Yes, the action starts today, with two Triangle teams hitting the court.
No. 12 UNC (29-7 last season), which is picked fourth in the conference, will host Air Force (4-26) at 4:30 p.m. at Carmichael Arena.
Then at 6 N.C. State (17-17), picked ninth, will take on St. Bonaventure (10-19) at Reynolds Coliseum.
Conference favorite and defending champion No. 2 Duke (33-3) will open Sunday at 6 p.m. at No. 9 California (32-4) in a game to be shown on ESPNU.
The Blue Devils return five seniors, all members of the No. 1 recruiting class of four years ago including forward Haley Peters and guards Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston. Also back are junior center Elizabeth Williams, the ACC rookie of the year two seasons ago, and sophomore guard Alexis Jones who was MVP of the ACC Tournament. Joanne P. McCallie’s club also has the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class led by forwards Oderah Chidom and Kendall McCravey-Cooper.
N.C. State (3-4, 0-4 ACC) is looking for its first ACC win under first-year coach Dave Doeren, and in fact its first win of any kind since September. UNC (2-5, 1-3) has just snapped a four-game losing streak with a 34-10 win over Boston College seven days ago.
It’s the first time both teams have been below .500 for this one since 2007.
The weather is sunny and mild and perfect, and the Wolfpack is showing off its new 50-yard-line logo with a red map of the state and a wolf’s head covering the Eastern Piedmont.
It’s another hard-fought one but this time the Tar Heels make the big plays on defense, holding on for the 27-19 victory.