AJ's Monday Musings

With two of North Carolina's first three football games on national television, the Tar Heels will have a similar opportunity as they did last year to make a splash nationally. And like last fall, most pundits are predicting lopsided defeats for John Bunting's crew.

After what should be a difficult opener against giant-killer Miami (OH), the Heels travel to Syracuse. Carolina will likely be a double-digit underdog, mainly because few will notice a victory over the Red Hawks, and a loss would diminish national interest in the trip to the Carrier Dome. Low expectations, not just nationally, but within the Atlantic Coast Conference region will contribute to the impending point spread.

The Syracuse game, slated for an 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2, will offer the youthful Heels an opportunity to raise some eyebrows, much like it did in 1996 when Mack Brown took a UNC team with mediocre expectations and a transfer quarterback into the Dome and waltzed all over the Donovan McNabb-led Orangemen.

That UNC squad, however, was loaded on the defensive side of the ball with future NFL-ers like Brian Simmons, Greg Ellis, Dre' Bly, Vonnie Holliday and numerous others stifling opposing offenses. This Tar Heel edition will be extremely thin and inexperienced on defense. But the flip side is that Carolina's offense will be much further ahead of the 1996 club's, even though, like that squad, it will have a transfer QB (C.J. Stephens) in the mix.

The following week avails UNC fans a chance at altering some of its passive football image, as Brown brings his Texas Longhorns to Chapel Hill for an 8 p.m. game, which will be televised on ABC.

UNC played Texas tough last year in Austin before turnovers and special teams miscues helped the 'Horns open a comfortable margin en route to a 44-14 victory. The game was much closer than the score.

Brown will receive an ugly reception, and in turn may not mind rolling it up on the Heels to sort of stick it to the UNC fans that crucified him for leaving in December, 1997. He will have Chris Simms back at QB to help contribute to the carnage, and a powerful running game UNC may have trouble stopping. On paper, one would think it could get ugly, which is exactly why this will be a tremendous opportunity for the team, program and second-year coach Bunting to make their own statement.

Two national TV games against difficult opponents may be a bit much for this group of Heels to handle, especially early on, but it is also the kind of test Bunting wants his program to face on a regular basis. In time, such experiences will, as he says, help UNC get to where he desires and feels it belongs.

Thinking Of Steve Streater

The sudden and tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile made me think of other athletes cut down in their prime. Of course, in baseball there is Mike Sharperson, the former major league utility man who died in an auto accident a couple of years ago while playing AAA ball in Las Vegas. Many sports fans remember when Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident during spring training in 1993. There was Lyman Bostock of the Minnesota Twins in 1978, less than a year after finishing second in the American League in batting behind teammate Rod Carew the year Carew chased .400 and ended up at .388.

But it also brought back a memory of a former Tar Heel who also had his career cut entirely too short. Although Steve Streater survived his car accident just after signing a free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins, his story isn't all that less painful.

Streater was a close friend of former Heel, and perhaps the greatest defensive player in NFL history, Lawrence Taylor. Streater was an All-ACC defensive back and punter for the Heels in 1980, and was also the Bluebonnet Bowl's defensive MVP as Carolina capped an 11-1 season and final No. 8 national ranking with a win over Texas. But in the spring of 1981, he was paralyzed from the waste down in a car accident and never fulfilled his dream of playing in the NFL.

Streater won't go down in history as one of the greatest Heels ever, but his memory, especially to those who saw him play and were impacted by his tragedy, will always remain as vivid as if he was tackling and kicking on the Kenan Stadium turf just last fall.

Carter-Finley Vs. Kenan

Okay, it's time for the great stadium debate. Well, sort of.

More like a priority debate.

Carolina announced last month that it was putting installation of a new dynamic scoreboard on hold because of the impression it would make when the university system is in the process of making cuts along the board. The funds paying for the addition were privately raised and earmarked for the scoreboard.

On the other side of the Triangle, N.C. State didn't halt its mammoth $50 million renovation of Carter-Finley Stadium and construction of a new football operations center. State clearly isn't as concerned about sending a politically correct message, as that has rarely been State's preferred angle.

Personally, UNC should have installed the scoreboard simply because the money was already there and included zero state dollars. The school's intentions are understood and to a degree, make sense.

Once can surmise UNC's decision is an obvious example that it lacks a commitment toward football. One may also argue that if a similar addition to the Dean Smith Center was in the works it would have gone through without the slightest snag.

Such thinking may indeed be true, albeit unlikely, and wouldn't be fair as there is no similar instance to compare it to.

State's construction was already well underway when UNC made its decision, and it wouldn't have made sense to stop, regardless of public perception. One may also try to conclude that State is more committed to football success and imagery than UNC. But that also doesn't make sense, as the "arms race" the schools are entangled in started in Chapel Hill, not Raleigh.

This week's question to readers is this: What are your thoughts on UNC's decision to not put up the new scoreboard, and do you think the school is justified in not using the privately raised money even though it was already in hand?

Each week I post a reader's response from the previous Musings' question.

This Week's Response

Last week's question was about N.C. State's non-conference schedule and how it may negatively effect the Wolfpack's chances at a BCS bowl.

Jason Harrick of Greensboro wrote:
N.C. State's lousy non-conference schedule will hurt both the team's chances at rising in the national rankings and Philip Rivers' shot at the Heisman Trophy. State's schedule is an embarrassment to the ACC but mostly to themselves. This could be a great team but nobody will ever really know it. I wish State well, for the most part, but wish they could be playing UNC's schedule instead because they could win all of those tough non-conference games.

Andrew Jones is entering his seventh year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a drive-time radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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