Mark: Looking Ahead through the Rear View

If there has been a bigger weekend for Carolina athletics in the last several years, I can't remember it.

Sure, there have been more exciting and fulfilling finishes--last year's upset win over Florida State is the first thing that springs to mind. There have certainly been weekends with more events taking place--each year around late October, fans are treated to a binge that includes a home football game, the Blue-White scrimmage in basketball, and at least one volleyball or soccer match thrown in for good measure.

But in terms of high-profile, high-stakes events, it was hard to match the big doings in Chapel Hill that wrapped up about 48 hours ago. When a September home game warrants a half-hour local television special before kickoff, you have to think something is up. And of course there was. If the fact that UNC was matching up against the #2 team in the nation wasn't enough for you, there was the Mack Brown media circus (of which I admittedly was a part). And that was only one storyline. If football wasn't your bag, there was the high-profile visit of seven-footer Brian Butch to campus, and the lower-profile visit by the parents of fellow Carolina target David Padgett. If the internet routers connecting Tar Heel fans to their favorite bulletin boards didn't catch fire, it would be a small technological miracle.

Yep, it was a lot to take in. Here are a few reflections on the big game, the big men, and the big future.

* First, a heaping bowl of irony for all of you who heated up my email inbox with comments about last week's column. After all the attention I gave to Mack Brown, all of you who wrote to say Roy Williams was the real villain didn't know how right you were.

In case you missed it, Roy Williams, the Texas receiver, torched the Tar Heel secondary all night long, breaking tackles on his way to 136 yards and two touchdowns. If Michael Waddell doesn't see Williams and his fellow Texas wideouts in his nightmares for a few weeks, he must have a pretty good shrink.

* Speaking of Waddell, it was a cold reality check to see the one of the fastest Tar Heels get burned repeatedly by Texas's players. The Rabbit looked an awful lot like road kill on an Austin highway by the end of the game. Waddell has too much talent not to bounce back, but after his performance Saturday, he has to know opposing teams are going to throw his way more often in the weeks ahead, and as a senior, he is still learning that pure athletic ability doesn't always get it done at cornerback.

* Football fans in Chapel Hill tire quickly when it comes to talk of moral victories, and I'm of the position that there weren't many to be had in Carolina's defeat. While the Tar Heels have many tools that will be useful in the construction of a good team, the fact is that they aren't there yet. The Heels were soundly beaten in every aspect of the game, and although they hung close for parts of two quarters, the final score shows the distance between a perennial top 5 program and a middle-of-the-pack team in the ACC.

* That said, there are plenty of hopeful signs looking ahead into the off week. Credit Carolina's offensive line with a tough performance that gave Darian Durant time to throw and opened holes for the tailbacks. Time of possession didn't matter much in a game where Texas showed it could score with 50 seconds and two flicks of Chris Simms's wrist. But it will matter a great deal once the ACC season gets into full swing, and if the o-line continues to move people around, there are good things ahead for this squad.

* Finally, speaking of things ahead, I wish I had some secret knowledge that could shed light on the recruitment of David Padgett and Brian Butch. The fact is, there are many rumors and little hard fact coming from Reno, Nevada and Appleton, Wisconsin. But this much is for sure: whether or not the Tar Heels are as desperate for inside help as some wags suggest, the stakes in these recruiting races couldn't be higher for Matt Doherty and his staff. To their credit, they have pursued two very different young men with a high level of success to this critical stage. But if Doherty is unable to seal the deal with either player, it won't matter how much improvement fans see on the court this year--there will be a lot of folks who say this proves the current staff can't compete for recruits at the highest level.

Expectations and reactions like these are patently unfair, and they are a product of the internet era in basketball recruiting--so much attention is focused on the decision of a handful of players that some forget a successful team can be created with players who don't have the All-American label. But like it or not, this is situation in major college basketball today. Recruiting has become its own sport, and if you lose, the vultures start to circle long before the body has hit the floor.

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