More importantly, the Tar Heels' "given" win over the visiting Blue Devils was to be a game to bridge the off-season and give credence to an assertion that – despite a 5-19 record over the past two years – UNC football is headed in the right direction.
But somebody failed to infuse such beliefs in the minds of the Blue Devils.
Duke operated its ball control offense superbly, running 80 plays to Carolina's 57, while holding the ball almost twice as long to win 30-22, saddling the Tar Heels (2-10, 1-7 ACC) with their first last-place conference finish since 1989.
"It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season," UNC coach John Bunting said. "I have no explanation why we played like that."
Chris Douglas led a Duke rushing attack that would amass 254 yards, while the Blue Devil defense held the Tar Heels to just 86 yards on the ground.
"We tried to mix it up offensively and try to get more balance," Duke interim coach Ted Roof said. "Being able to hold onto the football was a big gut-check for our offense."
For a perspective on the ineffectiveness of Carolina's running game, consider that David Wooldridge – the punter – was the team's leading rusher.
"We were very excited in the locker room before the game," Jacque Lewis said. "We thought we were ready."
Trailing 30-15 with 10:15 to go in the game and facing a 4th and 16from their own 32-yard line, Wooldridge ran 24 yards on a fake punt to give UNC new life. On the very next play from scrimmage, Darian Durant just missed connecting with Mike Mason in the end zone.
Two plays later, Durant would complete his next pass – this one to Duke linebacker Brian Dewan. However, the UNC defense would hold and Durant quickly struck back with a 31-yard touchdown to Jacque Lewis, which would get the Tar Heels within a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
Then another defensive stop would set the stage for the game's final outcome. The Tar Heels would have to drive 76 yards in 2:36 to pull out a miraculous come from behind victory. But there would be no Tar Heel magic on this day. A 1st and 10 quickly turned into 4th and 4, and the Blue Devils would sack Durant and take over on downs.
With no timeouts at their disposal, the Tar Heels could not stop Duke (4-8, 2-6 ACC) from then running out the clock. And before the final seconds could tick off, the Blue Devil players had rushed over to the "Victory Bell" and escorted it to their sideline in triumph.
Durant finished with 203 yards on 18-of-35 passing and two touchdowns. He also ran for a 10-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter.
"They showed up and we didn't," Durant said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but everything bad that happened to us was our fault."
But this one was lost in the first half, as Duke held a 23-0 lead at intermission.
"They had us completely out of sync," senior guard Jeb Terry said. "It's an extremely disappointing way to end my career. It's not exactly what I envisioned."
Carolina picked up just one first down in the opening stanza to Duke's 15. The Blue Devils went into the locker room with 283 total yards to the Tar Heels' 39.
"I was crushed," Lewis added. "Usually I'm the last to leave the field, but today I was the first."