On paper, some might argue why State would even bother showing up to play the Heels because clearly, the disparity in talent, at least according to the experts, should be insurmountable for the Wolfpack.
Consider the starting lineups for this past weekend's game. The Heels and Pack were equal in at least one regard. UNC lined up as many four and five-star players (9) as NC State started two-star recruits coming out of high school. In fact, the Pack had zero five-star players on the field and just two who were considered four-star recruits (R.J. Mattes and Terrell Manning) exiting high school.
Defensively the difference was even more lopsided. Seven of North Carolina's 11 starters on defense were either four or five-star pickups in high school while State strolled five two-star players onto the field. That bunch included players like Audie Cole, J.R. Sweezy and Jeff Rieskamp. Against North Carolina, that trio accounted for 18 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks for the Wolfpack.
Since 2005, UNC's recruiting classes have been ranked higher than NC State's in every year but one (2008). During that stretch the Heels have had classes that averaged No. 21 nationally according to Scout.com, and the Wolfpack has averaged just No. 43 overall in the country. With that being said, State has owned the Tar Heels on the field, winning the last four head-to-head matchups.
So why such a huge disparity between Signing Day and results on the field? Coaching? Overinflated recruit rankings?
NC State head coach Tom O'Brien has long been known for taking the recruiting road less traveled to find players. His philosophy of offering players that fit into his system and then developing them over time has been at the core of his success.
For the first time since arriving in Raleigh, O'Brien and his staff has been able to avoid catastrophic injuries and maintain continuity throughout the year. The result... an eight-win season at a minimum and another win over their in-state rival.
Perhaps the experts should take a closer look at the talent NC State targets. They likely won't have staged shows to make their commitment or received much fanfare. And when all is said and done, February will roll around and find North Carolina fans beating their chests over another hot-shot recruiting class while laughing at the no-names inked in Raleigh.
NC State will take the leftovers and look forward to the rematch in Raleigh next year. With UNC starting 11 seniors in this year's game to just six for NC State, Pack fans have to be optimistic about their chances in 2011... not just in that game but also in the season.
Well, that and the fact that O'Brien and his staff will be on the sidelines for the Wolfpack. Entering the final game of the 2010 season, O'Brien is now 24-24 overall and 14-17 in the ACC with a chance to win six conference games for the first time in his career. His program certainly appears to be on the rise.
North Carolina head coach Butch Davis is 26-23 overall, 14-17 in the ACC, has yet to win over four conference games, and has his program in the middle of a NCAA investigation and academic scandal.
Oh yeah, he is also 0-4 against his in-state rival.
(2010 NCSU-UNC Game Based On Starting Lineups)
Average star rating on defense...UNC.....3.72....NC State.....2.63
Overall star rating as a whole.....UNC.....3.32....NC State....2.68
Number of 4 and 5-star recruits...UNC.....9........NC State....2
Number of 2-star recruits............UNC.....4.........NC State....9
Highest class ranking over last five years....UNC...No. 6 (2009)...NC State...No. 29 (2008)
Lowest class ranking over last five years....UNC...No. 31 (2010)...NC State...No. 60 (2007)
Average class ranking last five years..........UNC....No. 21..............NC State...No. 43