Lail: How the West will be won

Former North Carolina football coach Mack Brown didn't invent the idea of the mythical "state championship," he just perpetuated it.

Brown, now at Texas, did a great job of stressing the importance of beating schools from your same state, and the Tar Heels have been the so-called "state champs" more often than the other schools in North Carolina, something UNC should be proud of. NC State appears on its way to reaching that level.

However, a recent trip to the part of our state that Daniel Boone and Eric Rudolph made famous revealed that while most residents of North Carolina may be torn between State and Carolina this weekend another 1/3 of the state simply doesn't care.

There's an ample amount of orange in the mountains this time of year. There are pumpkins along the roadsides, and the leaves are beginning to make their dramatic wardrobe change for fall. But there are also many orange 'Ts' on house flags and on the backs of cars and trucks around Western North Carolina, a sign of the University of Tennessee's loyal following "out there."

It shouldn't surprise anyone that there are those in the mountains of Carolina that pull for the Volunteers. The mountain citizens have had a history of conflict with the rest of the state, especially Raleigh, the state capital. Many folks in the hills were more loyal to both the British and the Yankees, and Western North Carolina citizens who felt they were being neglected by the government created the forgotten state of Franklin. (Franklin eventually failed and became part of Tennessee.)

Today one can still tell that a chasm exists in the west. The town of Murphy, way out in Cherokee County, is closer to seven other state capitals than it is to Raleigh. Residents in counties such as Cherokee, Graham and Haywood get Tennessee and Georgia TV stations and newspapers, not North Carolina ones. Heck, why would you pull for a team 7 hours away that you may never get to see in person when you could make the hour and a half drive over the mountains to Knoxville?

UT football understands its following in North Carolina and has exploited it many times over. The Volunteers have a history of raiding North Carolina - particularly the west - for some of the state's best football talent.

NC State has made gains in recruiting since Chuck Amato came on board, and "The Chest" has not shied away from going head-to-head with the big boys (and winning a few, too). But Amato's concentration has been primarily on Florida, and so far, that philosophy has worked out nicely. Snagging a couple from UT's grasp wouldn't hurt either.

So how does NC State - or North Carolina or Duke or Wake Forest, for that matter - truly become the "State Champ?" By winning, of course. Winning would begat coverage, which would begat fans, which would begat young men who grow up dreaming of running onto the field at Carter-Finley. (The Wolfpack still has one more game to play in Charlotte - a move that may earn an extra recruit or two from the west - but after that game administrators have expressed no interest in future games in the Queen City.)

But in the end it all comes down to winning. If State defeats Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill, then the Pack can lay claim to being the top team in the state. But in all honesty, that title may not truly be legitimate until 2008.

That's when the Vols are on the schedule.

ACC Standings - One Man's Opinion:

  1. NC State: The Wolfpack may never live down a loss in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
  2. Florida State: The Noles gained back some respect with their win over the Tigers, but will the Canes put FSU back in its place?
  3. Clemson: It didn't show up on the scoreboard or in the win column, but the Tigers have made strides - just ask Bobby Bowden.
  4. Maryland: The Terps are starting to hit their stride.
  5. Virginia: Matt Schaub & the Wahoos keep finding ways to win.
  6. tie Georgia Tech and Wake Forest: The Jackets had trouble slowing down Wake's offense, but Tech is still 4-2 overall (1-2 conference). The Deacons should be 3-3 after Saturday's tilt with Duke, and a win would make Wake a solid 2-2 in the ACC.
  7. North Carolina: Just when you think the Heels are done for, they turn around and gut one out against the Sun Devils. UNC could be bowl-bound.
  8. Duke: Give it up for the Devils - UVa sure didn't waltz in and then waltz out with a 'W.' Duke gave UVa a scare - a sign that Carl Franks' team continues to improve.

This Week's Predictions:

NC State at North Carolina: Both teams can put up a ton of points, but NC State's defense will be the deciding factor.
NC State 32, North Carolina 17

Clemson at Virginia: The Tigers showed off some weapons against FSU, but had nothing to show for it. That won't be the case against the Hoos.
Clemson 36, Virginia 22

Duke at Wake Forest: Jim Grobe's gutty Deacons will show Duke that a small, private school can be successful at football.
Wake Forest 24, Duke 10

Florida State at Miami: The Seminoles earned a must-win game against Clemson last week, and have had time to prepare for the top-ranked Canes. FSU will give Miami its best shot, but it just won't be enough his year.
Miami 35, FSU 17

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Matt Lail is the former Managing Editor of ACCToday.com. As a student at NC State, he was the Sports Editor of Technician. He has also worked for the News & Observer and as the Managing Editor of The Wolfpacker.


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