New Coaches, Same Rivalry

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Butch Davis' hated rival during his time at Miami was 483 miles north in Tallahassee, Fla. Things have changed dramatically since his arrival at North Carolina – the fan base's circled game of the season will take place in enemy territory this Saturday only 25 miles down Interstate 40.

North Carolina owns a 63-27-6 all-time record against N.C. State, and the Tar Heels have dominated the series ever since former Wolfpack head coach Dick Sheridan resigned in 1993, posting an 11-3 mark and winning the last three contests.

But Davis was quick to point out during his weekly Monday press conference that his freshman-loaded roster has not seen much live action in the recent winning streak against NCSU.

"Well, how many of these guys have ever played in the game?" Davis said. "Three, maybe? Kentwan [Balmer], Hilee [Taylor] and Durell [Mapp] and Scott Lenahan maybe? Because the rest of those guys sure haven't played in any of those ball games."

But while many of the Tar Heels will be playing in this highly-anticipated in-state clash for the first time, most are fully aware of the implications this game holds for both fan bases across the state of North Carolina. With these two universities interwoven by proximity and history, their fans live side-by-side in the Triangle, their kids go to school together and many enter into the forbidden wedding bliss of securing a spouse that wears the opposing team's colors.

"One of things that's always interesting is that so many of the players have played against each other," Davis said. "There's so much familiarity in this [rivalry] even more so than any other that I've been involved in, whether I was at Oklahoma State with [Oklahoma] or Miami and Florida State, [because] they are so close in proximity… Maybe at least 50 percent of the players have got a significant history of playing against or with each other on a team, so I think that adds a certain element to the rivalry."

That's what makes this year's late season battle even more interesting – new head coaches at both programs that have not been a part of this type of rivalry game. Gone are the years of NCSU alum Chuck Amato and UNC alum John Bunting trading barbs across the airwaves and through print media, building tension with each passing hour until kickoff finally arrived.

As passionate about their respective schools as those two were, they left much to be desired on the field of play, and so proven, elite-level coaches were ushered into this heated rivalry in the form of Davis and N.C. State's Tom O'Brien.

Neither went to school in North Carolina, and both spent the last couple of years hiding out up North, with Davis taking a coaching vacation in Cleveland and O'Brien building a successful yet unappreciated program in the professional sports hub of Boston.

These two are unlike any UNC-NCSU coaching tandem that the state of North Carolina has seen in decades, if ever at all. They are professional CEO-types, media saavy and completely respectful of their opponents, unwilling to cause a stir or to give a slight edge in any way, shape or form.

Davis indicated his strong opinion of O'Brien's consistent style on Monday, which the NCSU head coach is sure to echo similar comments in his Tuesday press conference.

"What you saw year-in and year-out from Boston College [was that] there was not a lot of experimentation and they didn't try this for three or four weeks or for a season, and then the next thing you know, they're on to the next new trend," Davis said, who owns a 4-0 record against O'Brien. "He's got a belief system in how he wants his football team to play and prepare and what they're going to look like, and you can see evidence of all that thus far, even in his first year."

But regardless of what is said to the fan bases through the media, behind closed doors, these men know the importance of this rivalry. Bunting kept his job for two years longer than necessary because of his ability to beat the heavily-favored Wolfpack, and former NCSU coaches Mike O'Cain and Amato were run out of Raleigh due in large part to their lackluster record against the Tar Heels.

Senior defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer seemingly spoke for the masses when asked about his opinion concerning the Carter-Finley throwdown on Saturday.

"Every time we line up, those guys want to knock our heads off and we want to knock their heads off," Balmer said. "So it's going to be a knockdown, drag-out every play, and that's what you want – that's what you look forward to and that's what you want in a football game."

This rivalry also plays a role in in-state recruiting, as the Tar Heels and Wolfpack are battling for North Carolina prospects Spencer Adams, E.J. Abrams-Ward and Dwayne Allen, among others. But Davis refuses to put too much emphasis on the recruiting aspect of this clash between bitter enemies.

"I'd probably be remiss if I didn't think that they're going to have some impact [on recruiting]," Davis said. "… There's probably 20 things that go into a player's decision of why they go to a school and who wins and who loses the game might not even be in the top-10."

But what Davis and O'Brien will do is prepare their respective teams to the best of their ability, as well as put a product on the field that both fan bases will be proud of – after all, that's the reason these two men were hired in the first place. While this rivalry will always ignite tension-filled arguments through various media outlets across this state, it's nice to know that the UNC and NCSU football programs finally reside in hands that are able to eventually make this matchup important on the national level.

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