ACC College Football: NC State, UNC Fortunes, Reverse Track
A week ago, NC State wondered where their season was going after a disappointing road loss, and North Carolina was back on track after a resounding home win over a division rival.
Football can be finicky, especially in the ACC, but the past seven days have caused the kind of whiplash that a chiropractor can buy a boat.
Now NC State is aiming for an Atlantic Division title and North Carolina is in season save mode against Duke in a game that didn’t seem particularly crucial going into the season, but is now for both teams. .
As fast as things turned out they turned just as dramatically with NC State’s double-overtime victory over Clemson and North Carolina’s resumption of the Florida State disaster last season, this time in Georgia. Tech.
The team set to fight for a division title face a virtual elimination from that race on Saturday against a rival who, despite an early stumble in Charlotte, has yet to lose an ACC game. (Or play one, but still.)
And the team that received an outside blow for a division title at best now have the best shot of all, although the Wolfpack still have to make it to two places where they’ve previously tripped on their own shoelaces, at Boston College in October and Wake Forest in November.
But Clemson was the biggest hurdle, the biggest hurdle, and NC State broke it. There’s a world of opportunity ahead of the Wolfpack that just didn’t exist before, like the moment the Wizard of Oz goes from black and white to color. None of this is cheap, and all of it can be lost – just ask North Carolina! – but it’s over there, waiting, imminent.
There’s a lot less on the Tar Heels’ agenda now, certainly compared to August, but even compared to the aftermath of the shocking loss of Virginia Tech. Starting with a division loss was far from ideal but far from catastrophic, and the Tar Heels certainly seemed to have recovered at least some of their swagger in the shootout victory over Virginia. Then it all fell apart with a performance at Georgia Tech that wasn’t just puzzling, embarrassing, or humiliating, but all of the above.
This season’s autopsy in North Carolina has already started and will continue for years to come, with a seemingly endless list of points open for debate, from the offensive line to the coaching staff and everything in between. Mack Brown’s mysterious and magical tour of the campus came to a screeching halt, the moving train propped up on concrete blocks in the courtyard.
And the season is not even a month old.
In the span of two games, North Carolina and the State of North Carolina suffered a simultaneous double reversal of fortunes, one up and one down, then back again. What they share, aside from perhaps emotional fatigue, is a joint recalibration of expectations.
The Wolfpacks were made up and haven’t been higher in over a decade. The most difficult task on the calendar has been successfully completed, and NC State is in complete control of its own destiny. It’s a new day, at least for now.
The Tar Heels were crushed under the heel of a boot; even though North Carolina wasn’t the team pretty much everyone thought it was August, as it obviously is now, we certainly thought they were a good enough team to dominate Georgia. Tech and was barely competitive instead.
The question now for the Tar Heels is not what their cap is, as it has been since the end of last season. It’s now: what’s their floor?