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Ryan Craig

Tar Heels deserve top-25 ranking

Posted October 8, 2008

Do the Tar Heels deserve to be in the Top-25?

I’ve heard the question posed a number of times since the new rankings came out this week, from fans and media people alike.

On my radio show Tuesday night opinions were mixed. Ralph Russo, a national football writer for the AP, said they were deserving. Adam Lucas, the publisher and executive editor of Tar Heel Monthly magazine and a regular contributor to TarHeelBlue.com , said thy weren't. Calls from listeners were divided evenly as well.

In my mind, the answer is simple: Yes.

There are a number of things to consider when you ask yourself whether a program should be considered one of the 25 strongest in the country at the time of the voting, including strength of schedule, how the team performed in their wins and losses, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not there is someone that deserves to be there ahead of the team in question.

In Carolina's case, I can see the argument with the first two qualifications. Their schedule hasn’t exactly been the most difficult in the conference, much less the country. They’ve played several games on national television against name programs having down years.

I don’t care what Rutgers did when Ray Rice was there – they aren’t the same team. Quite honestly, Greg Schiano should have taken the money and run when he had the chance, but that opportunity is gone now, and in it’s stead is a program that is treading dangerously close to one-hit wonder status.

Their other “marquee” wins, over Miami and UConn, came against a rebuilding program on a last-second play and against an overrated Big East team with their backup quarterback. Granted, Carolina had their backup quarterback in for both of those games as well, but the pessimists will dismiss these two wins as merely a Trimane Goddard lucky play and a Tyler Lorenzen injury away from two losses.

Very well.

Then by the same argument, Carolina should be given credit for beating Virginia Tech – a team they were crushing before their starting signal caller, T.J. Yates, was knocked out of the game with what turned out to be a broken ankle.

My counter to those arguments is simple. You play who is on your schedule when they are on your schedule. These games are put on the slate years in advance, not weeks. It’s not like Butch Davis and the Heels waited to see if Rutgers would be good this year before they scheduled them. They weren’t sitting in the lobby of the hospital with Lorenzen’s parents awaiting the status of his foot x-rays to see if he would be available to play before booking the game last Saturday.

At the time of the schedule was made, they were two good looking teams that would offer Coach Davis’ team a test of how far their program had grown. Once it was obvious they were overrated, all the Heels could do was beat them – badly – and they did.

That’s called taking care of business – something good teams do. Something Top-25 teams do.

More importantly, however, is my opinion that in order to argue against someone being in the poll, there needs to be an equally good argument for someone to be included.

When I think of the Heels this year, I don’t think of them as a dominant team. But, can you think of 25 teams that are playing better than they are right now? I can’t.

15? Sure – maybe even 20.

But when you look at the section of others receiving votes, there are only two teams that I think could beat Carolina right now: Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.

Tech’s defensive line is the best in the ACC, and maybe the country, and their offense is only going to click more as the team gets used to Paul Johnson’s spread option. Wisconsin dropped from 18th in the AP poll to 26th because of a loss to Ohio State by three points. Should they have dropped eight spots for a loss to a better team by a field goal? I say no.

Even still, those two teams only push the Heels down to 24, at worst, which, unless my math has seriously declined since my college years, is still in the top 25.

The moral of the story is this: You can only play who’s on your schedule – a schedule that is made years ago by people that, now I’m only guessing here, can’t predict the future.

All you can ask of a team is that they beat the team lined up across from them, something that Carolina has done better than all but 21 teams in the country this year.

Well - maybe all but 23.

Ryan Craig is the host of Inside the ACC on 99.9 FM The Fan. You can hear him on the airwaves from 7-9pm, Monday-Friday.

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