Mike: Will Heels 'fight even harder' ?

Win or lose, we'll find out a great deal about the Carolina football program and the direction it is headed over the next few years when the Heels take the field in Winston Salem this Saturday.

It is usually in the third or fourth weekend of October when teams either start really surprising people with grit and determination or simply begin playing out the string.

Heading into this weekend's game at Wake Forest after two straight come-from-ahead losses and Darian Durant lost for the rest of the season, now would be the time when you could see the Heels beginning to phone it in. The Deacs will line up and run their unique and highly effective rushing game straight at a Carolina front seven which is ill equipped to stop it.

This knowledge has caused odds makers to install the Deacons as 5.5-point favorites over Carolina, and armchair prognosticators all over North Carolina and beyond to figure Wake wins by an even greater margin. With all we have seen from the Heels this year, and what we know to be coming on Saturday, you almost have to wonder if it's even worth putting too much preparation into the game.

I'm no Pollyanna on the Heels this year, but I can say that I will be shocked if John Bunting's charges come out on Saturday and simply go through the motions. After the debacle in Charlottesville last weekend, Bunting stated that he's ready to come out and fight even harder. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, the "fight even harder" mentality can be the cornerstone upon which the coming seasons are built.

Young players are learning now that their coaches are continuing to expect their best effort on every single play. We're not talking about moral victories, we're talking about the fundamental reasons that players run onto the field in the first place: pride, competition, and respect.

The time has not yet mathematically passed for Carolina to reach a bowl game or achieve a .500 or better ranking, but in all probability these goals will be an uphill struggle. Over the last five weeks of the season we may see these postseason hopes erased, and that will be disappointing for all concerned. However, it is important that there is growth in every setback, and that every play is played like it is the most important one of the season.

I, for one, will be watching with great interest over the coming weeks, hoping for some late season excitement and maybe a shocker or two. Mostly, though, I'll be watching for the little victories in each game that might not have a huge impact this year, but will form the very mortar of solid performances in the future.

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