CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – For the first time since 1993 and the third time ever, North Carolina and N.C. State meet as ranked teams.
“I don’t really care about the rankings. But I guess it’s kind of cool for the fans and stuff like that. It doesn’t really make a difference to me, they’re a good football team,” said UNC quarterback Sam Howell. “We got to bring our best on Saturday to have a chance to win so have to have a good week of practice to prepare because they’re a good football team.”
Following a 31-20 win over Duke last weekend, N.C. State sits at No. 23 while the Tar Heels dropped to No. 14 from No. 5 after a loss to Florida State.
The rankings may not mean much to Howell, but he’s right about one thing – it does to the fans.
“I think it’s such a credit to high school coaches and high school football in this state when this game is important and both teams are ranked. Because a lot of the players from this state go to these two schools. I think it’s really really good for the Triangle, it’s good for the state of North Carolina and it’s good for high school football,” said head coach Mack Brown.
Last year’s meeting ended in a 41-10 UNC win in Raleigh. The road team has won six of the last seven meetings between the rivals.
But this season, both teams only have one loss and are much improved from a year ago.
“They’re having a great year. I think at the end of the day it’s a pride game. It comes down to two teams that are 30 minutes down the road from each other. If you want to have the pride of the state and earn the respect of the nation you got to win the in-state games first,” said offensive lineman Brian Anderson.
Since 2000, N.C. State has a slight advantage over the Heels, winning 12 of 20.
“It’s an in-state rivalry game. It’s something to really get excited about especially this early in the year. Usually we’re facing them the second to last game, last year we faced them the very last game of the season,” said linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel.
With the conference changes due to COVID-19, the Coastal and Atlantic Divisions are out the window.
Without divisions, the two ACC teams with the highest win percentage will be in the ACC title game in December.
That makes every game even more important.
Add that to the weight of a rivalry match-up, expect an exciting game this weekend.
The first time the Heels and Pack met when both were ranked occurred in 1979.
No. 19 UNC topped No. 15 N.C. State 35-21 in Chapel Hill.
The Wolfpack would go on to win the ACC that year – the last time State earned a conference championship.
In 1993, a Mack Brown-led No. 18 North Carolina beat No. 19 N.C. State 35-14.
The 110th game between N.C. State and North Carolina will kick off at noon on ESPN in Chapel Hill.