It has been twelve, long, years since the North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the UNC Tarheels on the Pack's home turf. I was there for that game and it was just as beautiful as it is described in the folklore passed down by the ancient ones. But finally the time has come for N.C. State to put an end to the ugliest streak since Fat Dave went au natural down Hillsborough Street our sophomore year. The Chosen One is now a senior and ready to secure his rightful place in Wolfpack history. The recent unpleasant news regarding Richard Washington has some of the Wolfpack faithful fearing that the "Carolina-Finley jinx" will remain intact come this Saturday. Again, relax. Ain't gonna happen. No way, no how. The Chosen One will lead us to victory. However, I have to be honest and come clean that Philip Rivers isn't really the reason why I'm so sure the Pack will beat the Heels this Saturday.
My certainty comes from four simple words… "Chuck," "Amato," "John," and "Bunting." Those words do more for me than my other four favorite words: "free," "beer," "chicken," and "wings." As long as Chuck Amato and John Bunting are coaching against each other, N.C. State will come out on top. Philip Rivers may be The Chosen One, but Chuck Amato is the wizard who does the choosing in the first place so the whole myth begins and ends with him. How can I be so sure about Amato guiding us to victory when he's 0-1 against Carolina at Carter Finley? I'm glad you brought that up, lets discuss that aberration.
That UNC team that beat Amato and company in 2001 was a heck of a team; they were loaded with talent. They had players like Julius Peppers, David Thornton, Ryan Sims, Kory Bailey, Errol Hood, Quincy Monk, Chesley Borders and Sam Aiken. That's a heck of a roster. So what do all of these players have in common (other than having a penchant for effeminate colors and being eternally damned for playing at UNC)? None of them were recruited by John Bunting. Not a one (you'll see why that's important in a minute).
The only winning team Bunting's ever had at Carolina was comprised solely of standout recruits left to him by (ex-UNC head coach) Carl Torbush. Did Bunting ever thank Torbush for leaving the cupboard stocked with future first round NFL draft picks? No. He took full credit for the success of 2001. That would be like Athina Onassis taking credit for what ol' Aristotle left her. However, now that UNC has picked up right where it left off last season- and even though Bunting has brought in three recruiting classes of his own- he is publicly blaming the poor play of his team on the players left to him by Torbush (many of the same players that were so productive during his first, and only, winning year).
Here's a quote from Sir John earlier this season, "It's not as hard for me as you might think [about benching certain players]. I didn't recruit all these players who are out there playing." Is that quote not priceless? That ranks up there with "no new taxes" and "I didn't inhale." To complain in the media that your upper classmen aren't "your players" is not only tacky, it's stupid. Professional journalism be damned (literally), this guy is a tool.
I wonder what Jim Grobe (Wake Forest's head coach) could do with the exact same players that Bunting's had to work with the last two years. If Bunting thought he walked into a locker room void of talent at UNC, he would have had a coronary at what constituted for a football team in Winston-Salem. But strangely enough, under the tutelage of Coach Grobe, the Demon Deacons have rapidly improved and are presently in the upper-echelon of the ACC. And- gasp- they've managed to do this without one top twenty recruiting class. Yet UNC has had three strong recruiting classes under the current staff and they are presently duking it out with the Blue Devils to see who can lay claim to the title of conference doormat.
Which brings me to another popular excuse for Carolina's poor play…they're such a "young team." Um, people, it's college, everybody's young (except for Chris Weinke who became the first AARP recipient of the Heisman Trophy); that's why college parties were so much fun. But I understand what is implied, Bunting's playing a bunch of freshmen and sophomores as opposed to juniors and seniors. But even this is as misleading as Arianna Huffington's tax return in dispelling the recent misfortunes in Chapel Hill. N.C. State has played more freshmen than UNC has this year but that hasn't caused anyone to use it as an excuse to write off the Wolfpack's season. Why? Because it's just that, an excuse. This is like déjà vu all over again. Wasn't this why UNC was so bad last year? Didn't those young players last year get any older? I'll have to inform Ponce de Leon and Peter Pan about this place, they'll go nuts.
At some point the losing in Chapel Hill has to become about the coaching. Yes the players play the game, but the coach designs how they play it. Who gets the blame for losing at Waterloo, Napoleon or the foot soldiers he commanded? It seems to me that spending your collegiate years playing for John Bunting would be as sound a decision as investing in an Andrew Ridgely tribute band. And God forbid that your education becomes more important than football, you better get a part time job to help pay your tuition (compare and contrast Greg Woofter and K.J Stone here).
When N.C. State lost to Wake Forest in week two, Chuck Amato told the press, "Don't blame my players. It's all to me. Never blame my players on anything. It's me. I'm in charge of this situation." This represents a distinct difference between the coaching philosophies of the two coaches. And that is why I will always feel secure about N.C. State's chances as long as these are, indeed, the two coaches matching wits.
I'm going to go watch "The Simpsons" and tune everything else out until the game on Saturday. This is exactly what I used to do when I lived on Brent Road back in 1991. Ah, the more things change the more things stay the same.
My prediction for this game: N.C.State 49, UNC 21.
Stay safe and stay tuned…