With its win over Wake Forest on Saturday, Duke has won nine games in a season for the first time since 1941 and will be playing in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
Duke – which won just 25 games in the first 12 years of the 21st century – has secured its first winning season since 1994 and is one victory away from playing No. 2 Florida State for the ACC crown.
That trip to Charlotte, however, goes through Chapel Hill and a UNC team that has reeled off five consecutive victories.
Duke earned bowl eligibility in 2012 by defeating the Tar Heels in Durham. UNC head coach Larry Fedora made sure his team remembered that defeat immediately following its 80-20 win over Old Dominion on Saturday.
As the players walked off the field into the locker room, they were greeted by highlights of last season’s loss to the Blue Devils.
The game film is on a constant loop throughout the Kenan Football Center since Saturday, appearing on televisions in the weight room, training room and locker room, according to freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer.
“Just so they wouldn’t forget,” Fedora told reporters on Monday.
It will be hard to forget given what’s on the line for the Tar Heels. A UNC win on Saturday would not only inflict heartache on its rivals but also move the Tar Heels into a tie for the Coastal Division title. UNC loses all remaining ACC tiebreakers and therefore is out of the running for an appearance in the title game.
A sixth-consecutive win would make the Tar Heels even more attractive to ACC bowls that would have a collection of teams with similar conference records after FSU and Clemson. While the Chick-fil-A Bowl is not out of the question, a victory on Saturday would all but secure that UNC wouldn’t slip below the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 28.
“It’s a big game for us and it’s a big game for them,” Switzer said. “They’re on the run of their lives right now and have been playing great ball as of late. To finish up at home against a rival like that, and one that has so much on the line, as do we, it makes for a big game. “
And while UNC is favored by 5.5 points, the Tar Heels are still searching for a signature win on its resumé this fall. The Tar Heels’ four ACC victories have come against teams with a combined 7-21 record in league play. Boston College (7-4, 4-3 ACC) represents the best win on the schedule to date.
As odd it may historically sound, a victory over Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) would be UNC’s high mark of the 2013 season. The Blue Devils’ play this season hasn’t come as a surprise to Fedora, due in part to last season’s loss.
“The way the league has gone, it’s come down to the wire or at least it did last year and now it’s doing it again this year,” Fedora said. “I think anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday and if your team keeps believing and keeps playing well you can put yourself in that position and that’s what they’ve done.”
The Tar Heels have found success in their 1-0 weekly mantra and that approach continues into the final week of the regular season.
“We’re just focusing on beating them,” quarterback Marquise Williams said. “We’re not looking at what they’ve got after this. Our main focus is being 1-0 and we’re going to try to get that 1-0 on Saturday. And what happens after that, as long as we get the ‘W,’ we’ll be fine with that.”
The Tar Heels likely won’t mind, however, if they send Duke back across the county line without the victory and an open date next weekend.