The Tar Heels will be trying to accomplish something they haven't done since Oct. 11, 2003 – win a football game away from home.
"By virtue of winning some really tough football games and playing an incredible schedule, we've put ourselves in a position to do something special with the season," UNC coach John Bunting said. "It's down to a two-game season. This is an extremely well-coached, good football team over in Winston-Salem. I expect a real battle. They are an exciting team to watch on tape. We're going to have to play our very best to have a chance to win."
For the Deacs, this one will be personal – not that they ever need a reason to get up for UNC in any sport. Payback will be the rallying cry, as they can do unto the Tar Heels what was done unto them last year in Chapel Hill. Wake (5-5, 3-4 ACC) was coming off a 45-17 win over Clemson and needed only to defeat UNC (1-8, 0-5) to go to a bowl for the second straight season. Instead, behind 244 yards and three touchdowns by Ronnie McGill, Carolina came out on top, 42-34, for its only home win of the year. The Deacons went on to lose to Connecticut and Maryland to finish out their 2003 campaign.
"No matter what we did last year, there was so much written and said about our bowl opportunity, that we forgot to play on Saturday," WFU coach Jim Grobe said. "This year our guys know not to start dreaming and talking about things that aren't here yet."
Much has been made of the balance in this year's newly expanded ACC, with all but one team entertaining postseason hopes entering this week. But that number has and will continue to be trimmed drastically, beginning with FSU's elimination of N.C. State from the bowl-eligible ranks Thursday night.
What was supposed to be a showcase league designated to see if Miami or Florida State could reign supreme, has its conference title up for grabs with just three weeks left.
"This is one of those years when you just can't catch your breath on any Saturday," Grobe said. "The league is really balanced, but I don't know if it's a changing of the guard. You won't know that until two, three or four years."
After 20 consecutive starts at quarterback, Wake's Cory Randolph will give way to Ben Mauk. But Grobe said both will play, and downplayed the decision to make a switch.
"It's really not much of a decision we had to make," Grobe said. "Cory was banged up the week before we played Duke. Against Duke, Ben played a little bit better, so I just thought it was fair to Ben to let him start the game this week. We still expect Cory to play and feel like we'll get a great effort out of both. We're not trying to play around with their heads. You don't need to motivate either kid; they're both great kids. They're both two of the hardest workers we have on our football team."
The league has ties to the following bowls: Bowl Championship Series (league champion); Toyota Gator Bowl (second pick), Jan. 1, 2005, Jacksonville, Fla., vs. Big East; Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl (third pick), Dec. 31, 2004, Atlanta, vs. SEC; Champ Sports Tangerine Bowl (fourth or fifth pick), Dec. 21, 2004, Orlando, Fla., vs. Big 12; Continental Tire Bowl (fourth or fifth pick), Dec. 30, 2004, vs. Big East; MPC Computers Bowl (sixth pick), Dec. 27, 2004, Boise, Idaho, vs. WAC.