ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: North Carolina Tar Heels

Will North Carolina Be Able to Rebound From Last Year’s Embarrassing Shutout Versus NC State?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

Opponent: NC State

Last Year: Loss, 13-0 vs. NC State

This Year: October 27, vs. NC State

I honestly doubt that this rivalry needs much more fuel, especially when “little brother” is stoking the fire. You may recall a certain billboard that went up a few weeks back, claiming North Carolina for the Woflpack. Star Heels running back Giovani Bernard certainly saw it, and isn’t too thrilled, according to his Twitter feed. But there’s actually a basis for the claim. State has won five straight meetings in the annual contest, including last year’s 13-0 shutout, and seven of the previous 10 meetings. So even though UNC holds a 55-32-5 advantage in the all-time series, that doesn’t seem to matter much right now.

For the Tar Heels, last year’s game was an unmitigated disaster. Even with one of the best running backs in the ACC (Bernard), they only managed three yards on the ground all day. They totaled just 165 yards of offense on the day, to go along with three turnovers and even saw starting QB Bryn Renner knocked out of the game by relentless pressure. Worst of all, they actually had a shot to win. Despite the offense’s inability to execute, the defense still held an opponent to 13 points, under 300 yards of offense and 16 first downs. State quarterback Mike Glennon, who had seemingly just hit his stride, threw for under 50 percent completions, and only 164 yards. Not to take away from the Pack’s brilliant effort, but UNC’s worst enemy was themselves that day.

This season will likely bring far more subplots, too. Coming off its first shutout of North Carolina in over 50 years, NC State is making bold statements about its dominance over its fellow Tobacco Road resident. The Wolfpack are also a fringe top-25 team, and Glennon may catch fire as a trendy Heisman sleeper pick. Carolina, in comparison, boasts two of the league’s most exciting offensive weapons — Bernard and Renner — amidst a postseason ban. By the time October 27 rolls around, they’ll either be completely demoralized (bad season and nothing to play for) or energized (great season and a huge chip on their shoulders). As much as I surprisingly like this Tar Heels squad, the smart money (right now) is on NC State to beat its rival yet again, as it tries to remain in Atlantic Division contention.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, NC State

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