On Campus

In a new weekly column starting today at <i>Inside Carolina</i>, Johnny Buck reports from the North Carolina campus on students' opinions, perspectives and expectations with regards to Carolina sports.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The start of another academic year at UNC-Chapel Hill throws the entire campus into a period of transition: thousands of students return to campus, lines form at the bookstore, classrooms are searched for, and countless new construction zones are dodged and avoided. It's true; change is in the air in Chapel Hill.

But some things remain the same. The Old Well is just as noble and stately as ever before. Large oaks still line the Quad and offer much needed shade in this humid, 100-degree weather and another season of UNC football is about to kick off in Kenan Stadium.

But don't be fooled by the solid core of returning starters, the much-heralded recruiting class that head coach John Bunting brought in or the hype surrounding the new video scoreboard erected behind the southern end zone – North Carolina is still a basketball school.

"I don't think UNC football could ever really be on par with our basketball team in terms of popularity," said UNC-junior Dave Bookhout, "because this is a basketball state. It's not Texas or Oklahoma. Their whole life is football, football, football." Bookhout, a Chapel-Hill native, went on to say that in North Carolina people are practically raised on hoops.

Truth be told, student anticipation of this year's football team, not to mention the opening game against Florida State, is guarded at best. At worst the upcoming games are feared, according to freshman C.J. Newton. "I've heard bad things about the upcoming games. A lot of people are worried we're gonna lose."

But Newton quickly added that, from her freshman perspective, the win loss record of the football team was not especially important to her. "It's not really about whether we win or lose but just enjoying college-level sports for the first time."

This is a nice sentiment to hear but unfortunately not all students echoed such remarks. As the last few years have proven, many fans, students and alumni of Carolina don't deal well with losing records. Just listen to Adam, (who asked that his last name remain anonymous), "I like Bunting a whole lot more than Doherty, but this year he needs to win at least one home game to keep up the morale or he may have to worry about his job security."

But even with a 3-9 record last year on the football field and all the hype about the arrival of a certain basketball alumnus from Kansas, the vast majority of the undergraduate population here at UNC harbors hope and optimism for the gridiron warriors in light blue.

"I've got a positive outlook as long as the team gels," said senior Chris Schafer. "We did it two years ago; there's no reason that (the upset win over Florida State in 2001) can't be repeated."

Most students questioned pointed to the playmaking ability of quarterback Darian Durant as the most prominent strength of this year's team. Also mentioned frequently were safety Dexter Reid, wide receiver Jarwarski Pollock, and the returning starters on the offensive line.

Concerns consistently mentioned included the running back position, the entire defensive line and the linebacking corps. Schafer also pointed to the difficulty of the schedule as a potential problem, "The first six games are going to be a real tough stretch. I think we can take Syracuse and ECU, but the rest are all question marks at this point."

In the minds of many students here at UNC, the future success of the basketball team is anything but a question. Because of this, most students have a wait-and-see attitude about UNC's football team – as in – "wait until basketball season starts and then then we'll see some good games."

It seems that it's been that way in Chapel Hill for years. Former head football coach Mack Brown had several famous quotes about UNC being a basketball school. Then, of course, he left to coach the Longhorns of Texas; a school steeped in football tradition. All indications point to basketball remaining "on top" at UNC in the hearts and minds of the students. As sophomore Kara Taylor put it, "Until we can stop someone on defense and therefore win some big games, basketball will be the undisputed king at UNC."

However, all of the students interviewed would welcome the arrival of a football program that makes a "challenge to the throne."

Will it happen? No one can say for sure. But until it does, Tar Heel students will probably continue to play the game of "wait and see."

Johnny Buck is a senior in UNC's School of Journalism. The Martinsville, Va. native worked for two years as an anchor/reporter on "SportsXtra," the student-run sports show on Carolina athletics. You can email him at sumpfan@yahoo.com

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