Bragging rights will be on the line when NC State faces it's two biggest in-state rivals over the next couple of weeks. However, just as important as the wins and losses will be the recruiting implications headed into the crucial official visit period for the class of 2007. And looking beyond just this year's class, it's a safe bet that many of 2008's best players will be keeping a close eye on these two upcoming contests as well.
Surprisingly, the Wolfpack employed a completely different recruiting approach this year when compared with year's past. It was not uncommon for the Pack to enter December with just a handful of commitments, a high-risk strategy that had reward but plenty of disappointment as well.
It became obvious as early as last spring that State was determined to build a foundation for the class of 2007 during the summer of 2006 and with December just a few weeks away, they have succeeded in landing verbal commitments from 15 players. To coach Amato and his staff's credit, the Wolfpack looks solid with the entire class despite struggling to a 3-7 record. In hindsight, had the Pack not pushed for those early commitments, the class of ‘07 could've been a disaster.
After dropping another heartbreaker this weekend at Clemson, State is guaranteed their second losing season under Amato. However, contests looming against UNC and East Carolina offer small opportunities for redemption. They could also go a long ways in shaping the in-state recruiting hauls for the rest of this year as well as next.
While East Carolina has been little more than an afterthought to most Wolfpack fans when it comes to recruiting, the Pirates will be just one of two in-state schools invited to a post-season bowl game. Skip Holtz has quickly turned ECU around and the "up and coming" theme will be a recurring one for the Pirate coaches.
Although East Carolina has rarely been a threat to the Wolfpack on the recruiting trail under Amato, a loss to the Pirates could add another thorn in the side of the Pack's efforts. Rodney Cox of Harnett Central and Melvin Ingram of Richmond County are just two seniors taking a long look at both programs. State has long been a major player with both but it's become more obvious of late that East Carolina has closed some of the gap. Beating the Pirates would not only be a huge win over a bitter rival, but it could also help the Wolfpack re-establish some distance between itself and ECU on the recruiting trail.
Perhaps the most bitter pill Wolfpack fans have had to swallow over the last two years have been consecutive losses to UNC. While State seemingly held a solid lead talent-wise, at least on paper, they managed to find a way to squander two very winnable games. It would also be simply foolish to ignore the ramifications those two losses had on in-state recruiting.
While the Pack owned the state from 2002-04, the tide began to turn with the class of 2005. Cam Sexton, Jordan Hemby, and Cam Thomas all chose the Heels over NC State. While that was hardly a dominating performance, it showed that UNC was chipping away at the Pack's armor.
In 2005, the Pack lost another mistake-filled game to Carolina and the Heels recruiting success against State proved even better with the class of 2006.
Tavares Brown, Aleric Mullins, Vince Jacobs and Deunta Williams all inked with UNC after earning offers from NC State. While four players may not seem like a lot, consider that from 2002-04, the Pack lost just four players total to the Heels during those three classes. It would hardly seem coincidental that State was 2-1 against UNC during that span. Since, the Wolfpack is just 1-2 against Carolina.
Perhaps even more damaging than the recruiting results over the last two years have been the complete reversal of fortunes for the class of 2007.
With a coaching change already made and just one W in the win column, UNC has already landed verbal commitments from five players that the Pack had offered this year. A sixth, Emanuel Davis from Manteo, would likely have been offered as well had he not jumped almost immediately on an offer from the Heels.
What all this means is this week's game against Carolina couldn't be bigger as far as recruiting is concerned. Every team gets a huge, initial boost on the recruiting trail when a new staff takes over. It goes without saying amongst most Wolfpack fans that Butch Davis will be a media darling for weeks to come after his pending announcement as the new Carolina head coach. The Heels will look to feed off that momentum during December and January as they build towards the future. As for the Wolfpack, what would it say about their future should they lose to arguably the worst coach in the history of UNC football with a coach of Davis' pedigree looming?
All of that can be answered this Saturday in Chapel Hill. It likely won't have a huge impact on the class of 2007 but juniors will be watching. Players like TJ Graham from Wakefield, D'Wayne Allen from Terry Sanford, Quinton Coples from Kinston and Travis Leggett from West Columbus will all have a vested interest in how this game turns out.
It won't have any impact on a potential bowl game or even a winning season but victories over East Carolina and UNC are an absolute necessity for State going forward. Win both and the Pack can enter 2007 with solid momentum. The Wolfpack faithful will be happy although certainly not satisfied. Coach Amato's job stability will be on firmer footing with the potential to build on a solid, early start with next year's class.
Lose both and all bets are off. It would create a hole that only eight or nine wins in 2007 could likely fill. Along the way, every Wolfpack win and loss will be heavily scrutinized by the media and fans alike. With so much on the line, perhaps no two games have ever been more important for coach Amato and the future of NC State football.