Then there is the "Carlyle Cup," an all-sport competition between UNC and Duke. UNC currently leads – 8.5 to 5.5 points, and a Duke win would mean the two schools would be tied for the cup (the winner of annual football game receives three points).
"I think you guys know me well enough, how important it is to me, the staff, the football players on this team, it is very important to us," North Carolina head coach John Bunting said at his Tuesday press conference. "It's a game we can win, it's a game they can win and once again, they've made a great improvement this year."
The Duke offense has done a 180-degree turn since the days of Steve Spurrier. Spurrier's teams featured an all-out air assault, and the names of Duke quarterbacks regularly stood at the top of ACC passing marks.
Duke head football Coach Carl Franks has instituted an offense that instead relies heavily on the run. The Blue Devils average over 160 yards per game rushing the ball, fifth in the ACC.
The Duke rushing attack features two junior backs, Alex Wade (6-1, 250) and Chris Douglas (5-11, 190). Wade, a punishing fullback, averages 4.8 yards per carry and 76.5 yards per game. Douglas is a quick and elusive tail back who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 59.8 yards per game. Together they form the most dangerous running backs tandem in the ACC, ranking fourth and six respectively in the league.
Adam Smith (6-5, 205, So.) has started every game for the Blue Devils this season. Smith is completing 55% of his passes, and has passed for 1854 yards this season. With a good day against the Heels, Smith could break 2,000 yards in passing this season. Smith's forte is his ability to spread the ball around to a variety of receivers.
Smith has tossed 10 touchdown passes, six of them to his favorite target, Khary Sharpe (5-11, 170, So.). Sharpe has 27 catches on the season, and averages 41.4 yards per game receiving. Senterrio Landrum (5-9, 185, So.) also has 27 catches, but is more of a possession receiver for the Blue Devils. The Blue Devil passing attack also involves the tight end, Andy Roland (6-4, 225, Fr.) who has 21 receptions this season. Wide receiver Lance Johnson (6-1, 190, So.) has recorded 23 catches this season. Both Wade and Douglas are threats to catch the ball out of the backfield and have combined for 35 catches for the Blue Devils.
Unlike the Spurrier offenses of old, the Duke passing game is ranked near the bottom of the ACC, averaging over 202 yards per game, seventh in the league. The passing offense strives, however, to keep defenses honest.
The offensive line for the Blue Devils may be one of the largest in the ACC, and may the most responsible for the success of the Duke running game. The starting line averages 312 pounds and stands 6-5. Junior center Luke Bayer is the lightest of the bunch at 6-5, 285. Left guard Daryl Lewis (6-3, 330, Jr.) is the biggest of the group. Junior Drew Strojny (6-8, 300) is a massive left tackle, as is right tackle Christian Mitchell (6-7, 325, So.). Right guard Rusty Wilson (6-3, 320, Jr.) "rounds" out the offensive line.
The bad news for the Duke defense is that senior linebacker Jamyon Small tore his left anterior cruciate knee ligament last week against Georgia Tech and will be in street clothes this Saturday. Small was the fourth-leading tackler for the Blue Devils, with eight tackles-for-loss and two sacks on the season. Small had started 30 games for the Blue Devils in his career. His loss means Duke will play Saturday without a single senior in the game.
Junior Ryan Fowler (6-4, 235) has had a great year for the Blue Devils at middle linebacker, with 123 tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, and one sack. Fowler has good presence at the middle linebacker spot. The Blue Devils will be young at the other linebacker spots, starting Brendan Dewan (6-2, 210, Fr.) and Giuseppe Aguanno (6-1, 235, So.) at the outside linebacker spots. Arguanno will play in place of the injured Small.
Defensive end Shawn Johnson (6-5, 235, Jr.) has also been a defensive standout for the Blue Devils. Johnson leads the ACC in sacks with 10, and has 17 tackles-for-loss as well. The other defensive end,Micah Harris (6-4, 235, So.), has been productive for the Devils, with 10 tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Matt Zielinski (6-2, 290, Jr.) and Orrin Thompson (6-7, 270, So.). form the interior of the Duke defensive line.
The front seven of the Blue Devils has been very effective this season against the run, allowing only 119 yard per game, the fewest rushing yards allowed in the ACC.
In the secondary, cornerback Kenneth Stanford (5-9, 180, So.) has been very productive for the Blue Devils. Stanford has 11 pass-break-ups and recorded his third interception of the year last week against Georgia Tech. Stanford has also registered 41 tackles on the season.
Strong safety Terrell Smith (5-11, 175, Jr.) is second on the team in tackles, with 83 total, including 48 solo stops. Smith also has two interceptions. Free safety Alex Green has three interceptions this season and is fifth on the team in tackles with 49. Freshman Brian Greene (6-1, 185) rounds out the secondary for the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devil secondary has been more vulnerable than the front seven, yielding 254 yards per game, the most in the ACC.
There is a lot of pride on the line for both these teams. As difficult has this season has been for the Tar Heels, nothing would be more humiliating than a loss to the Blue Devils.
The reverse is also true. After going winless the past two seasons, the Blue Devils have notched two wins this season, but are still looking for their first conference win since November 11, 1999 against Wake Forest.
Offensively, the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels are very different teams. To the extent the UNC offense has had success this year; it has been through the air. North Carolina still leads the ACC in passing offense, even though starter Darian Durant has been out the past four contests. There is a possibility that Durant may return this week which would be an emotional lift for the Heels.
The Blue Devils, however, rely on a huge offensive line and two capable backs to move the chains. North Carolina has been horrible in run defense this year, a combination that could prove deadly for the Heels. Last week, however, the Tar Heels did well against Florida State's running game, but Florida State was deep into their depth chart last week due to injuries.
North Carolina committed themselves to run defense last week, a tactic they have been attempted with little success this season. It worked against FSU, but will it work against the Blue Devils? The Blue Devils appear to lack the receivers and passing game to punish a defense for stacking the line of scrimmage, but have been able to run the ball anyway.
With so much on the line, don't be surprised if both teams go deep in the playbook for some "trickeration." There is nothing to hold back for at this stage for either team.
One thing is for certain. No team wants to go 0-8 in conference play. On Saturday, both teams will do all they can to avoid being that team.