It's been an interesting few days around Carolina and ACC football. The Tar Heels won their third straight over Virginia last week on a Thursday night ESPN showcase game and now face a team that is soon leaving the ACC when Maryland comes to Kenan Stadium.
The Tar Heels and Terrapins kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday. Since the Tar Heels are not bowl-eligible, it's their chance to finish with an 8-4 record and send seniors like Kevin Reddick, Jonathan Cooper and Erik Highsmith out on a high note.
Much of the story line this week will surround the fact that the University of Maryland announced Monday that it is leaving the ACC for the Big Ten. Maryland was a charter member of the ACC in 1953 and will begin Big Ten play in 2014. Presumably, that means Carolina's cross-divisional game with the Terps set for College Park in 2013 will still be played.
The Tar Heels bounced back in fine fashion Thursday in Charlottesville from their defensive miseries suffered the week before against Georgia Tech. Carolina pounded Virginia 37-13, holding the Cavaliers to one touchdown and keeping them from the end zone on two second-half goal line stands.
"I was happy to see our guys play with emotion," co-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "It's tough when you get embarrassed like we obviously were from the Georgia Tech game. We're still short-handed and we're not built to whip someone one-on-one, play-after-play. We picked our spots to bring some pressure, we played some guerrilla warfare. It worked out tonight. Believe me, it was a Godsend after what we've been through."
The Tar Heels are 4-3 in the ACC Coastal Division and 7-4 overall. Miami announced Monday it would self-impose a bowl ban this year, which means the Hurricanes are ineligible for the ACC Championship game, set for Dec. 1 in Charlotte. With a win Saturday, Carolina would tie Georgia Tech at 5-3 for first place in the division. Should Miami beat Duke, it would be a three-way tie at the top.
How ironic would that be: After eight years of struggling in the middle to lower part of the division since ACC divisional play began in 2004, the Tar Heels have finally tied for first. But they can't play for the league title in Charlotte.
"This game is crucial," Larry Fedora says. "It's the opportunity to get number eight and it's, again, building on the legacy that these seniors want to leave that when a team comes in here to the Tar Pit how hard it is to play. Our guys want to win this football game. If we take care of our business, there's a chance we'll have reached our goal as far as Coastal division champs."