Buck Sanders: It’s a Thursday night game in Blacksburg this week between two teams seemingly moving in opposite directions. North Carolina is coming off a disappointing loss to archrival N.C. State, while Virginia Tech is coming off an impressive road win at Georgia Tech. How do you look for North Carolina, 11-point underdogs, to respond to this challenge? Can they pull off a huge upset this week?
Mark Paschal: Playing in Blacksburg on Thursday night is a huge challenge for any opponent. Virginia Tech looked like a team on a mission last Thursday in their road win over Georgia Tech and obviously are playing better football than the Tar Heels right now. Anything can happen in college football, and I believe we can bounce back and win in Blacksburg, but it is going to take a collective effort all week. The players are going to have to buy into the game plan and execute at a high level on game day. Everyone loves to play in prime time games, here is this team's chance.
Deems May: We’ve always seemed to match up well with Virginia Tech. They like to rely on a strong running game and good defense and those teams are the ones we usually have had the best match-ups with. Football is a game of match-ups and who takes care of the ball and doesn’t turn it over. There is no reason for us to go in there and not play well, but I thought the same thing for the State game. I hope we remember the feeling of two years ago up there and try and feed off of that win.
Scott Lenahan: We certainly have the talent to do so, but these guys are going to have to rally the troops and start playing for each other. I remember last time we played in Blacksburg it was almost the same scenario. A Thursday night game and we were entering as a 17-point underdog. We were able to win then, why not again? I truly believe that anything is possible but in order for us to win this game we’re going to need solid play calling offensively and Renner to stay calm and execute in a notoriously hostile environment. With our defense progressively getting better, I hope that we can keep this high-powered Virginia Tech offense at bay to clench an upset.
Quincy Monk: Well the fact that we are 11-point underdogs should be enough motivation in itself. This is a huge opportunity to be on center stage in front of all of America to knock out one of the top teams in the country. This will be a huge challenge in Blacksburg, but there will be no better feeling than to knock Virginia Tech off its high horse. It’s going to be a tall order to beat them on Thursday, but if we click on all cylinders on the football field we can definitely steal a win from the Hokies.
Buck: How do you assess the state of ACC football in 2011? With Clemson (7th) and Virginia Tech (9th) both one-loss ACC teams ranked in the Top Ten nationally at this point in the season, has the conference as a whole taken a step forward this year in football?
Scott: As for gaining national prominence, I think we really took a step forward with the addition in 2004. But as it stands right now, having two teams in the top 10 is right up there with other conference power houses like the SEC. Although we might not have nearly as many in the top 25 as other conferences, I think it still speaks volumes of where we are headed.
Quincy: I think we still need to improve as a conference because of the inconsistency between all of the teams. There is still no clear-cut dominant team that you can say should win every game they play. Anybody can beat anyone on any given Saturday, so as a whole the level of play in the ACC conference is very similar to prior years.
Deems: I think back to our game with LSU and how closely we matched up with them minus a lot of players and consequently where LSU is this year. I think of Clemson 6-7 last year and just awful and how they’ve turned it around in a year and even the beating that Miami put on Ohio State and where OSU has been over the last few years. The ACC has taken a beating nationally, but I think it is obvious that it’s not that bad of a conference and hopefully will continue to improve.
Mark: The ACC is a strange conference. Literally anyone can beat anyone on a weekly basis. I really believe that the reason the ACC has gotten a bad reputation is the lack of a dominant team that contends for a national title year in and year out. There is, on occasion, some good football being played in this conference, and there are a lot of talented football players. It helps having Clemson and VT in the top-10 right now, but to be honest, neither one of them are world beaters.
Buck: Staying on the topic of the ACC, Wake Forest played Clemson a virtually even game in Death Valley, while N.C. State dropped a game to Boston College, considered to be one of the weakest teams in the league this year. North Carolina’s two conference wins this year have come over two teams, Wake Forest and Virginia, who both have winning conference records. Even with two Top Ten teams, the ACC is just as tough top-to-bottom this year, isn’t it?
Quincy: I think the ACC as a whole is still a bit inconsistent. Reason being, we have seen teams consistently lose to an opponent they shouldn’t lose to, and vice versa, teams that get beat by lesser opponents. Even though we have two teams in the Top 10, we still have some work to do to compete with other conferences.
Mark: The ACC has a bunch of average teams that can get beat by anyone on any given Saturday. Obviously some teams have more talent than others, but from top to bottom, I see a bunch of average football being played by a bunch of average teams. No one has really separated themselves from the pack as an elite or dominant team, even though Clemson and VT are national top-ten teams.
Scott: I wouldn’t say that we’re as tough top to bottom as some other leagues, but we’re certainly on our way. Usually we’ve always had a few teams that are deemed the whipping horse of the league. I think with the talent that we’ve progressively built and the competition getting better, it’s showing that every game you have to show up or else you very well could lose.
Deems: I’m of the opinion that minus Alabama and LSU, that the rest of the teams (top to bottom) throughout all of the major conferences aren’t that far apart. Minus those two teams, I believe that the top 2 or 3 teams in each conference can beat any of the other top two or three on a given Saturday. Most go as their QBs go; that’s what makes ‘Bama and LSU so good, they could win with Buck at QB because of their defenses and running games. When you don’t have to rely on a great game each week from your QB, it gives you such a greater margin for error. The ACC has improved from last year and I think UVa and Wake are the best examples.
Buck: This week new athletic director Bubba Cunningham assumed his duties at North Carolina. The consensus opinion is that he’ll take a new direction in terms of the leadership of the football program. Do you have a preference in terms of the next head coach? What should Cunningham be looking for in the qualities of the next UNC head football coach?
Mark: First and foremost we all should take a minute and thank Dick Baddour for his service and leadership during his tenure at UNC. I got to know Dick well when I was in school and developed a strong relationship with him. He was an outstanding leader and ambassador for UNC during his time here and, I think I speak for all lettermen in saying, “Thank you, Dickie.” As for Bubba, welcome to UNC. I do not envy your job right now. If I was Bubba, I am looking for a man who wants to be here, who wants to develop young people, who can recruit, who can assemble a top flight staff, who has a vision for UNC football, and who can build a program everyone can be proud of. If he does that, the wins will take care of themselves.
Scott: I hear John Blake is on the market? Kidding, that joke might be a bit too soon, huh? To be honest I’m not sure what our candidates look like at this point but what we really need is a big name coach. With the administration as it is right now though, I’m not sure someone of the caliber we’d like would be willing to take that chance. Bubba should be looking for someone who will fit into this University and create excitement around our football program. Personally I’d love to see someone like Urban Meyer, a proven coach who has come from a top-notch program and knows how to win.
Quincy: What I would like in the decision of our next head coach, is someone who’s going to bring that winning mentality back to UNC. I would like to see the next coach maximize the talent that we have on the football field. We have some great playmakers, so what I would like for us to do is to compete on a national level. With all of the talent that we produce in the NFL year after year, there is no doubt in my mind that Carolina should be competing for BCS championships moving forward.
Deems: All I will say on this subject is that I’m really excited about Bubba Cunningham. I’m entirely too close to this current coaching staff and the various football administrative assistants to comment on our next head coach. Everett deserves to be a finalist and given the last 18 months I think he and this staff have performed admirably. Football is a game of chemistry and not just talent. The chemistry has been disrupted too many times to mention over the last 1½ years. To be sitting 6-4 going in to Blacksburg on national TV and having a chance to finish the season strong is pretty good (although we all wanted more). These guys (especially the seniors) have a chance to go to war three more times with their buddies. These guys will be best friends for the rest of their lives, they surely don’t want to stink it up like they did in Raleigh. There are only a few opportunities left to erase that stench, and the first one is Thursday night with the nation watching.
Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.
Deems May excelled at tight end for UNC and was drafted in 1992, playing eight seasons in the NFL. He's since become a fan favorite for his candid commentary on the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.
Mark Paschal was a team captain for the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his career up until that point.