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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gotta Disagree With You On This One, Tom...

Coach O'Brien doesn't like the idea of playing Carolina in the final game of the regular season.

I get what coach is saying here. He doesn't find it appealing -- by playing the Heels in the final game of the year -- there's a possibility that State and Carolina could find themselves playing one another the very next week in the ACC title game.

"I think it's a dumb game to play at that time of the year, because you're crossing divisions," O'Brien said during this year's ACC Football Kickoff.

And in general terms, yes, it does seem foolish to be playing cross-divisional opponents when there's a possibility you could have to turn right back around and play them again the following week.

But not this game.


State versus Carolina is the biggest college football rivalry in North Carolina. Period. As a state, North Carolina may not have a lot to offer the national media types when it comes to college football, but within the state's borders, State/Carolina is the biggest game of the year to the majority of football fans here, each and every year.

Personally, I was happy when I heard the game had been moved to the final game of the season. I think a lot of State and Carolina fans were, too. Duke/Carolina as a yearly season finale didn't "move the needles" within the state. The 12 Duke football fans in the area aren't capable of making enough noise to drive the animosity needed to make that football game meaningful.

But State and Carolina fans -- the two largest fanbases in North Carolina -- make each and every game worth watching. Now that both programs seem to both be trending upward at the same time, interest in the matchup is high. (It also helps that State's beaten the Heels twice in a row, stoking the fires that died down in Chapel Hill).

Let's say the scenario Tom O'Brien fears most unfolds. State and Carolina both have a title appearance wrapped up and will meet the following week in the ACC title game. Does that take anything away from the regular season game? Does it make either team less likely to show up or perform at their highest level because they're looking ahead to the next weekend? I doubt it.

Look at it this way: If you win the regular season finale, you have an opportunity to make it 2-0 over your rival for the ACC title. If you lose the regular season finale, you've still got a chance to even the score and one up them by winning the ACC title.

The argument against playing Carolina back-to-back might be that you don't want to lose both games in succession, or win the regular season matchup but lose the big one a week later in the ACC title game. But does it really matter if those W/L scenarios shake out with the regular season game played earlier in the year versus in the final game of the season? I don't think it does. Both options aren't appealing, but the possibility of it going down over the course of two weeks back-to-back doesn't make it any less appealing than if the games were separated on the calendar by a couple of months. Losing in the title game against your rival would suck any way you slice it.

Conversely, I think there's a chance for positive press nationally if State and Carolina were locked into back-to-back games at the end of the year.

For one, it's a unique set of circumstances. It's rare two teams play one another back-to-back in college football. That alone would get folks in New York talking.

Also, assuming both teams are locked into the title game, there's a good chance it would be a meeting of two ranked teams. Any time two ranked rival teams square off against one another, there's attention paid by the national media. That these two ranked teams would be facing one another twice in two weeks only adds to that appeal.

I think it would also add another element of interest to the ACC title game that frankly needs it -- it's been a huge disappointment for the league to this point. Having two rival teams face off with one another in a rematch of the previous week's tilt -- with a week for both teams to analyze what went wrong and what went right -- should make for a compelling storyline in the ACC title game locally, regionally and nationally. And since Charlotte is slated to host the ACC title game in 2010 and 2011, a sold-out State/Carolina rematch in the Queen City for all the conference marbles has to be an appealing thought to commissioner John Swofford, who's watched 25%-filled stadiums become the norm in the title game.

This is all assuming State and Carolina is locked into the title game prior to the regular season matchup. It overlooks, in my mind, the best scenario that can come from a final-game meeting between Carolina and State -- where the game determines who goes and who misses out on the ACC title game. It's the one thing this rivalry has lacked for so many years -- something to play for.

Let's face it. This annual game ain't the Red River Shootout, where the loser often stands to miss out in the national title hunt. It's not the Miami/Florida State series of a decade ago that held similar implications. It's not even the World's Largest Can't-Call-It-A-Cocktail-Party-Anymore Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida that impacts the SEC conference race every year.

State and Carolina, for as long as I and many of you all can remember, has never had any implications beyond workplace water coolers and family picnics. Maybe that's been enough at times, but imagine a State/Carolina game where the winner advances to the title game. Or perhaps one team winning leads to a rematch in the ACC title game. Perhaps one team winning knocks the other out of the title game (how's that for adding some salt to the wound of your bitter rival?).

To me, that's what we -- as State and Carolina fans -- stand to gain by having this cross-divisional game come in the final game of the season. Something to play for. A lot has to fall just right for that to happen; State and Carolina have to both continue on their upward paths, and history says that it's rare that either team -- let alone both -- is good enough to contend for an ACC title. But imagine if the pieces fell just right and the State/Carolina game became, as Packman likes to refer to in wrasslin' vernacular, a "Loser Leave Town" match.

You won't get those kinds of implications playing the game in October versus the end of November. Maybe you could look back and say, "Yeah, had we just beaten Carolina in the fifth week of the year, we'd have been in that title game," but if your team was just one cross-divisional game away from making the title game, you could point to just about any loss on the schedule as "the one that got away." By having that final game be the State/Carolina game, with a title shot on the line, there would be no mistaking which win got you in or which loss kept you out. Because believe me, you'd hear about it for the next 364 days from your friends, family and coworkers.

Sorry coach...that's the way it should be.


  1. NCSU and UNC should be in the same division. Play the last game of the season. That would solve it.

    It is arbitrary that Virginia and Virginia Tech are in the same division while the two biggest football rivals in NC are on opposite sides.

    One of the many mistakes made by the ACC post-expansion.

  2. Brian, that would certainly eliminate the chance of playing back-to-back games. But it also eliminates the chance of the two teams meeting one another for the ACC title. That, to me, would make for one fantastic storyline for college football in this state.

    So I think I like the idea of keeping both teams in opposite divisions.

  3. i agree, i would like to see state/carolina in the same division. that would increase the likihood of the "knock the loser out of title contention" scenario. as much as i hate carolina and as much as i want to beat them more than any other team, truthfully, beating wake is more important to a successful season since they are a division rival. i'd rather not that be the case.

  4. Have to agree with SlackZac. UNC and NCSU should have been put in the same division at the outset.

    How much more rewarding was it for Hokie fans to knock UVA out of the ACCCG on the last week of the regular season two years ago?

    They should have also put FSU and Miami (Fla.) in the same division to get the same effect. They kept the teams in separate divisions so they could have their dream ACCCG matchup that has happened all of 0 times in the first four years.

    The argument pro-BCS proponents (me not one of them) keep close to their chest is that CFB has the best regular season because every game matters. What has BC beating Virginia Tech in the regular season the past two years meant to BC? Other than another league win against a non-division opponent, nothing. Make the games between rivals count the most by taking rivals like UNC v. NCSU, BC vs. Virginia Tech and FSU vs. Miami and sticking them in the same division.

    Cross-divisional rivalries are further fueled if there is more at stake. So the divisions should really be north/south aligned ...

    North: BC, VT, UVA, Maryland, Wake, Duke
    South: FSU, Miami, Clemson, GT, UNC, NCSU

    Feel free to swap the two Carolina schools around if you don't like your draw. But this makes the regular season games between ...

    BC-Virginia Tech

    have immensely more importance in the regular season.

    Like I said, one of the things the ACC got completely wrong post-expansion.

  5. It's an interesting argument. I think, were we starting over and reconstructing the divisions from scratch, that I could get behind putting State in the same division for the reason you mentioned. I like the way you've got the two divisions laid out above.

    But it is what it is, as they say, so unless Swofford is talking about realigning the divisions, I don't really see the point of shying away from playing your rival at the end of the year simply to avoid playing them the next week. Playing them in October doesn't make it any less of a cross-divisional matchup than in late November.

    By making it the final game of the year, it at least introduces the possibility of one team knocking the other out of the title game, and given how close all the teams in the ACC have been of late, one cross-divisional game could make all the difference in the world to both teams.

    I hear what you're saying, and we're essentially arguing two different yet related points -- you in favor of divisional realignment, me in favor of a regular season finale against the Heels.

    I like the possibilty of a State/Carolina ACC title game (however unlikely it may seem at this moment), and that's one scenario that couldn't take place with a divisional realignment. If this is what we're stuck with, I'll be rooting for that back-to-back series to take place.

  6. what's unique about this is that football is the only sport where this happens. state and carolina can still play in the title game in basketball, or baseball, or swimming, or whatver ... so this "keep this alignment so we can have the dream match up in the championship game" just doesn't mean as much to me ... i'd rather be the team that knocked them out of the championship game, then went on to win it all.. (sorta like the 1980 USA hockey team... we beat the Soviet Union just to make it to the gold medal game, but that's the one that people remember ... we obviously remember winning the gold, but we remember who we beat to get there ... no one cares that we beat Finland or Sweden or whoever the heck it was)

  7. So you'd rather beat them to keep them out of the title game than beat them in the title game?

  8. yes.. cause if they are in the title game, that means they've had a good season... yes, it would be sweet to beat them in a title game, but frankly, i hate them so much i don't even want them playing in one.

  9. I hear you, I hear you...me, I think it would be extra sweet to have them get *this* close to a title, only to have it ripped away from them at the very end by us. We win the title, go to the BCS game, and they get shipped off to Atlanta for the runner up bowl.

  10. I LOVE the North/South alignment idea. The same idea has surfaced before but Swofford has already come out earlier this year and said that they aren't touching re-alignment any time soon. They're still dreaming of a FSU/Miami ACCCG. And, to tell you the truth, the divisions as they are now, are set up to try to maximize dollars in the CG. That hasn't worked out yet, but then again, they have persisted on keeping the game in Florida on the off chance that FSU and Miami get their sh%t together for at least a year. But instead, they get to import BC and VT every year, with a dash of WF here and there. With the exception of VT, there are very few people following the other teams that have made appearances in the 'Big Game,' and very few people in Florida who give a crap about BC, Wake, or any other team north of the border. Bringing the game to Charlotte will do wonders for the revenue stream and ticket sales IF the two Florida teams don't start showing up in it together every year. No matter which team shows up to play, with the exception of BC, I think the ACCCG will draw a much larger audience.
    I'm almost done with my incoherent rant, bear with me.
    I agree with you about the NCSU/UNC game. Yet, I was glad to hear TOB tell Morgan Patrick, yesterday, that his problem was with the scheduling, not with the Carolina game itself. He set that record straight when he told MP that "We'll play 'em in the parking lot this afternoon...I think I could find enough guys." I love this guy. From a coaches standpoint, you don't want to be put in a position where you have to game-plan for the same team twice within a two week span. Also, the perception of a play-off would be in tact IF the last games of the year in each division had Championship Game ramifications.
    Having said all of that, I would be totally stoked to see both NC State and UNC meet in the last game of the year KNOWING that they had both locked up their divisions. There are scenarios where other games may have to play out to know that both teams where going to the ACCCG, but chances are that one of the two would be eliminated from that game by the other team. That is as good as it gets with College Football, and would never be bad for the image of our state. So, as a fan, I welcome the situation in question, but as a coach, and a conference, I would struggle with it. Because let's face it, a UNC/NCSU ACCCG match-up isn't going to have the nation standing on it's ear...yet. The End.

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