Roles have been reversed for North Carolina and No. 20 North Carolina State as the teams prepare for their regular-season finale.
It’s NC State in position to reach the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
The Wolfpack (8-3, 5-2 ACC) can land the Atlantic Division’s spot in the league championship game by defeating visiting North Carolina on Friday night in Raleigh, N.C., and if Boston College knocks off Wake Forest the following day.
“We put ourselves in a position,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “Now a chance to have a championship week. Senior Day and play our rival. A lot to play for.”
The season began with North Carolina (6-5, 3-4) holding a top-10 ranking and a favorite in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
It hasn’t panned out for the Tar Heels, but they can play spoiler against their rivals.
North Carolina played Saturday without quarterback Sam Howell, who was out with an upper-body injury. That didn’t stop the Tar Heels from thumping a one-win Wofford team in the home finale.
Howell, a junior who has been on a record-setting pace throughout his career, is expected to play against NC State.
“He feels like he’ll be well and ready to go Friday,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said.
Reserves Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye each played a half at quarterback in the Wofford game.
Either way, graduate transfer Ty Chandler gives North Carolina a rushing threat. The former Tennessee player eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week (1,004 yards, 13 TDs).
“(That’s) the goal we had for him when we took him as the only grad transfer,” Brown said. “He’s sure been worth it.”
NC State lost a Nov. 13 showdown at Wake Forest, but the Wolfpack bounced back into contention last week when the Demon Deacons lost to Clemson (and State socked Syracuse).
An NC State victory and Wake Forest loss would mean a three-way tie with Clemson (8-3, 6-2), in which case, the Wolfpack would win the tiebreaker because one of its losses was to a Coastal Division foe.
“We do control what happens (with us) if we get a win here this week,” Doeren said. “Obviously, we’ll be Boston College fans here this week.”
NC State has won nine consecutive home games.
“One of our goals was to be undefeated in âThe Carter,'” Doeren said, referring to Carter-Finley Stadium. “Right now, we’re one game away from pulling that off. … That means a ton to our team.”
With everything at stake, Doeren said the Senior Day aspect might be as important as any factor.
“Seeing those guys in the locker room after the game, it’s going to be painful for them either way,” he said. “I want it to be where there’s that smile on their face after a win.”
North Carolina, which is 0-4 in road games, is bowl eligible for the third straight season under Brown, and consider that in his first go-round at UNC, his last six teams went bowling – so in a way, it’s a nine-season streak for the veteran coach.
The Tar Heels will be without defensive back Ja’Qurious Conley, who’s out with a lower-body injury suffered against Wofford. Conley is fourth on the team in tackles and has two interceptions.
NC State is the fourth nationally ranked opponent in a five-week stretch for North Carolina. The Tar Heels lost to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh and defeated Wake Forest.
North Carolina has won the past two meetings. The 41-10 decision in 2019 marked the largest victory ever for the Tar Heels in Raleigh. The road team has claimed six of the last eight matchups in the series.