A rivalry restored?
Posted October 29, 2012
Updated October 30, 2012
Tom O'Brien has never been afraid to call things as he sees them.
O'Brien sent a few shock waves through the social media universe when he said this year's State-Carolina match-up felt like a rivalry game for the first time since he took over in Raleigh.
I think he's on to something.
For years now, I've been saying the team that "wants it more" wins a disproportionate number of games in this series - regardless of talent, or who's favored. Inside the Rivalry: NCSU vs. UNC Football
This is as unscientific as it gets, so bear with me. But there certainly seems to be a correlation between "embracing the rivalry" and winning in this series.
John Bunting's Carolina teams suffered some of the worst losses in the program's history, but Bunting still went 4-2 against NC State. Why? The game was an absolute priority for them, while the "biggest game of the year" for Chuck Amato's squads was often perceived to be Florida State - against whom the Pack fared much better (4-2) in the same time span.
That trend reversed when O'Brien and Butch Davis took over the two programs. O'Brien embraced the rivalry immediately, while many perceived the focus at Carolina was on beating teams like Miami and Virginia Tech. The result? Five straight wins for a State team that wasn't always favored, while the Tar Heels went 4-4 against the Hokies and 'Canes under Davis. UNC gets late dramatics to top NC State, 43-35
In both cases - State under Amato, and Carolina under Davis - the programs appeared poised to break into the national spotlight. But in both cases, the rivalry game (and a perceived lack of emphasis on it) proved to be a major sticking point.
Hey, I'm not saying Amato and Davis didn't care about this game - far from it. But the old saying "throw out the records when these teams meet" seems to apply to this series, and the team that appears more focused on the rivalry has won a lot over the last decade - even when those teams were decided underdogs.
From day one, Larry Fedora made the N.C. State game a priority - often quoting the number of days in a Red Bull-infused countdown. The result? A passionate, wild, shootout-of-a game that literally came down to the last play.
I think that's what O'Brien was talking about: Both sides of the rivalry making this game a priority.
And we, as spectators, are the beneficiaries.