"We've got to win this game. Let's face it, the pressure is on," UNC coach John Bunting said Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
Carolina (4-5 overall, 3-3 ACC) must defeat the Deacons (4-4, 1-4) and then Duke (0-6, 1-8) the following week in order to become bowl-eligible. But Wake can still qualify for an extra game as well by winning two of its last three (UNC, at Miami, at Maryland).
Wake Forest will have had two weeks to prepare since its last outing – a 24-22 win over Duke on October 30 - and this will also be the final home game for the Deacons' seniors. Add into those perceived Deacon advantages, the fact that all four of Wake's losses have been decided by seven points or less, and this game has all the makings of a struggle between two teams with a lot left to prove.
"This will be a battle of wills," Bunting said. "We've put ourselves in a position to do something special and we've got to take advantage of it. But we can't just talk about it, we've got to do something about it."
And, it's a rivalry game. Wake and UNC, meeting for the 101st time, is the 16th oldest rivalry in Division 1-A football history. Carolina holds the all-time edge, 66-32-2, including a 19-12 road mark since Wake moved their Wake County campus to Winston-Salem in 1956. But in more recent history, the Deacs have won three of the last five meetings.
Even though the Tar Heels won last season's meeting in Kenan Stadium, 42-34, Wake tailback Chris Barclay was a load, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown. Bunting said he considers him one of, if not the best, tailbacks in the ACC. Currently, Barclay is ranked third on the conference rushing list, averaging 89 yards per game.
"Barclay is a tough, strong runner," Bunting said. "He's quick and explosive."
Quarterback Cory Randolph also enjoyed success in Chapel Hill last season going 22-of-33 for 311 yards passing. But it appears that Randolph has lost his starting job to Ben Mauk, who threw for a career-high 127 yards in the win over Duke. The redshirt freshman completed 11-of-20 passes, including a 30-yard touchdown strike to Kevin Marion.
"He is as quick as Randolph, who killed us two years ago," Bunting said. "But they're not going to change their offensive scheme much with him in there. They will have something new for us, I'm sure."
Lewis will play at tailback and/or on the kickoff return team, while Bunting said McGill would likely be the "third option" if he can play at all.
"I need to get Jacque Lewis on the field," Bunting said. "He's a real competitive guy who wants to be out there contributing."
Tommy Richardson, who bruised his shoulder in the Virginia Tech game, is expected to practice full speed this week.
Melik Brown, recovering from a concussion, will practice in a green (no contact) jersey on Tuesday, but Bunting said if he looks OK, he'll practice full beginning on Wednesday.
Hilee Taylor is still out with an injured right femur.
"They've worked very hard and demonstrate great leadership to get us where we are," Bunting said. "The people in the NFL are going to love having a guy like Jason Brown."
The Tar Heels recruited the Powder Springs, Ga.-product, but already had a number of linebackers in tow for 2003. Now with Fred Sparkman indefinitely suspended, Kory Gedin out of the program and Joe Kedra battling injuries, Bunting admits he has been impressed with Abbate and has had second thoughts on his recruitment.
"Looking back, I wish we had recruited him even harder," Bunting said.