With the days beginning to dwindle in college football’s regular season, desperate times have reached Chapel Hill.
Although the UNC football team remains focused on beating Georgia Tech this Saturday, the Tar Heels—who need a Virginia Tech loss to have a shot at winning the ACC Coastal Division—have no choice but to be Duke fans for the week.
Coming off of a much-needed bye week, many of the Tar Heels said they watched plenty of football during their rare Saturday off. Head coach Larry Fedora said he started watching during ESPN’s College Gameday—which starts at 11 a.m.—and stayed watching through the conclusion of the Florida State-Clemson game, which ended close to midnight.
While Fedora said he took notes Saturday about different things he saw on TV, the players said they were more focused on relaxing.
Last Thursday, however, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh met in a crucial primetime game with serious Coastal Division implications. Although the Hokies pulled off the win, Tar Heel players like defensive tackle Naz Jones were glued to the screen that night—praying for some help in the standings.
“We just want to see them lose,” Jones said of the Hokies at Monday’s press conference. “I definitely was a cheerleader during the Pitt game. I didn’t turn the channel once. Screaming at the TV. Definitely live-tweeting.
“We needed [Pitt] to come away with it,” he added. “They did a great job, but didn’t come away with the win.”
Senior cornerback Des Lawrence echoed Jones sentiments during his time with the media on Monday, before being reminded of what the schedule calls for this week.
While of course UNC will need to take care of its own business at home against Georgia Tech, the Hokies will be right down the road in Durham.
For one game at least, Lawrence and the Tar Heel players aren’t ashamed to admit they’ll be rooting for their most hated rival.
“Last week I think everyone on this team was a Pitt Panther fan on Thursday night,” Lawrence told reporters. “And whoever else Virginia Tech plays I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be a fan.
“We’re just trying to get the help from any other team to be in a position to be in the ACC Championship,” he continued. “It’s gonna be hard, but we’ll pull for the team in dark blue to help us out [this week].”
Both UNC and Virginia Tech are 4-1 in conference play entering the final three games in league competition. The Hokies own the tiebreaker, however, thanks to their 34-3 blowout over the Tar Heels during Hurricane Matthew.
It was by far the worst offensive performance in Fedora’s five years as head coach, and is now proving to be quite a day to forget. Regardless of what the weather was like that day—a factor Fedora refused to blame from the beginning—it’s a game the coach would rather not talk about at all.
“Can’t control what happened in the past,” Fedora said. “It’s all about this week. That’s really where all our focus is. It won’t be about what happened [against Virginia Tech].
“It’s about what are we gonna do?” he added. “We have to take care of our business.”
For UNC junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the game against Virginia Tech is the one rotten egg on an otherwise impeccable season. His only two interceptions came against the Hokies, and he’s still completed over 71 percent of his total passes this season despite connecting on just 13 of his 33 attempts that day.
His success has helped lift him atop NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.’s quarterback rankings—leading many people to wonder if this could be Trubisky’s final stretch as the Tar Heel signal caller.
If Trubisky has indeed began thinking about a pro career, it should only add an extra layer of motivation for him to lead the Tar Heels to victory in each of their remaining games.
“The fact that we still might not make it if we win out, I feel like it should make us cherish every game,” Trubisky said. “Just put that much more emphasis and focus in each week.
“We have to win out just to have that shot,” he continued. “So we’re just trying to enjoy every game we get to play with each other.”