Rivalry Transcends Records

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina is playing its best football of the season, which comes to an end Saturday at Duke. The Tar Heels (2-9, 1-6 ACC) are coming off an impressive 23-9 win over N.C. State and will be a pre-game favorite against the Blue Devils (0-11, 0-7).

"This could be the first (Duke) senior class to capture the Victory Bell twice since the early '80s," said an optimistic Ted Roof, referring to the four-wheeled trinket possessed by the winning school.

There will be dark blue spray paint on hand if indeed the Blue Devils can grab a win over arch-rival Carolina in John Bunting's final game as coach. But they are catching the Tar Heels at a bad time – although UNC will have to string together back-to-back victories for the first time this year in order to prevail.

"We definitely don't want to lose the bell to those guys," Jesse Holley said. "Just like with N.C. State, Duke is just as big a rivalry for us."

As is often the case in major intra-sectional standoffs, the stats, the past and the prophecies mean little once the contest is underway. And its regional importance always transcends the two teams' current won-loss tallies.

"This is not a game that passes," Roof said. "You think about it from the time it's over with until you meet again the next year. It means a lot to both schools. It certainly means a lot to Duke. There's a lot riding on it for us."

Despite underdog status in almost every game, Duke has played Carolina tough. Bunting is 4-1 versus Duke, but two of the four victories were decided by less than a field goal and the Blue Devils won 30-22 in 2003.

"When you play Duke, nothing else matters," Holley said. "They are not going to play like an 0-11 team – I guarantee that. You put all the records aside. It's going to be a hard-fought football game."

Key reasons for UNC's mild resurgence, along with its defense which has allowed just 16 points in the last two games, is its improved rushing attack. Ronnie McGill has run for 100 yards or more in two of the Tar Heels' last four games. He needs 242 on Saturday to become the first UNC tailback to gain over 1,000 yards in a season since Jonathan Linton accomplished the feat in 1997.

"We'll need Ronnie to have a good game for us to be able to win," Bunting said.

As always, the Tar Heels will try to establish the run with McGill first, but the challenge will be on the offensive line to help keep his punishment limited. Last week Carolina's offensive push up front was as impressive as it has been all season. A unit which was inexperienced at several positions coming into the year seemed to come of age versus the Wolfpack.

"Looking around this ACC, I don't think anybody really had a handle on their offensive line," Bunting said. "It's the toughest position to recruit and create depth. There were times this year we were really effective running the ball, and we continued to work the system."

Carolina leads the all-time series 53-35-4.

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