Duke-North Carolina is a big rivalry…on the basketball court.
Duke football coach David Cutcliffe believes the two football teams need to elevate their programs to get to the level of the basketball rivalry.
“When it comes to basketball, it’s at the top – the best rivalry in all of college basketball – no ifs ands or buts about it,” Cutcliffe said. “The reason it is, they both have been national championship contenders. They’re playing at an extremely high level. That’s what it takes to get you to become an Alabama-Auburn. Both of those programs have won national titles in the last few years. That brings a lot of history with it.”
The chance to rebuild that rivalry is on Saturday at 3:30pm ET in Chapel Hill. UNC has won seven straight and 20 of the last 21 games (actually its five of the last seven as the Tarheels vacated victories in 2008 and 2009 as part of its self-imposed punishment). Six of the last eight losses for Duke against UNC have come by a touchdown or less. None of the Duke seniors have beaten the Tarheels.
Up for grabs is the Victory Bell, which was reclaimed by UNC in 2004 at Wallace Wade Stadium. The only one connected with the program who has rung the bell is linebacker coach Jim Collins, who beat the Tarheels in back-to-back season (1998-1999).
The Duke players believe that UNC has big-boyed them, run right at them over the last few years. Matt Daniels, a senior safety, talked about being overpowered:
“It kind of seems like that’s what they do – just big-boy us, run right at us,” the senior safety said. “Two years ago, they probably ran the ball like 43 times. From watching film from last year, they ran the same play on us like 29 times – it was a running play, a power action.”
“I think being able to big-boy up for the first play of the game and show that they are not going to be able to knock us down and run all over us will definitely make a statement,” Daniels said.
Daniels added that “this season comes down to this game and this game only”.
It’s been that kind of season for the Duke Blue Devils. They have lost six in a row and are just 3-8 (1-6 in the ACC) on the season. However, some good things have come with this season.
The current Duke senior class is the winningest senior class since the 1995 seniors graduated with 16 wins. Currently, this class has 15 wins. Daniels believes a win versus UNC would help him realize that he left Duke a better place than he found it when he arrived.
Receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon are the top pass receiving combo in ACC history. Varner could become the first player in ACC history with three straight seasons of 60 receptions. He needs seven catches on Saturday to reach that plateau. Vernon, a junior, could make a run at the ACC career record for catches next year (232), as he needs four receptions to reach 200 for his career.
Quarterback Sean Renfree needs 262 yards passing to become the fifth quarterback in ACC history (second in Duke history) to reach 3,000 passing yards in two straight seasons.