Duke, UNC play Saturday for Victory Bell, Coastal Division Title

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. A VERY long time. With a win on Saturday, the Blue Devils will win the ACC Coastal Division championship and play in their first ACC Championship Game. Only one little problem: they have to go to Kenan Memorial Stadium and knock off a surging North Carolina Tar Heels team that has won 5 straight games. It could be the biggest game Duke has ever played.

They have already surpassed many expectations under head coach David Cutcliffe. Last season they won the Victory Bell Game against UNC for the first time since 2003 and made their first bowl game appearance in more than 20 years. This season has been nothing short of great for Duke: currently the Blue Devils are on a 7 game winning streak, are 9-2 overall, and #24 in the BCS rankings (their first ever BCS appearance).

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora wants to make sure they don’t celebrate a Coastal Division title, too. According to freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer, Fedora has played the footage of Duke players spray painting the Victory Bell trophy royal blue after last year’s game nonstop in the locker and weight training rooms at Kenan Stadium. Fedora knows the importance of this victory for his team. “They’re the no. 24 team in the country and they’re on a seven-game winning streak. We’re excited for our seniors playing their last home game in Kenan Stadium so it should be a heck of a football game,” Fedora said Wednesday.

After a disheartening loss to Miami on October 17th, North Carolina has turned its season around quite nicely. The Tar Heels have won five straight games to become bowl eligible at 6-5, and North Carolina’s defense has stepped up nicely. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin currently ranks fifth in the country with 11 sacks. But more impressive for North Carolina has been their improved offense, especially from underclassmen.

Fedora broke out the trick plays once again last Saturday, and Carolina scored on a 56 yard pass off a flea flicker. Throw in a double pass TD from a wide receiver against N.C. State, a reverse pass to a quarterback for a TD against Virginia, and four punt returns in the last three weeks (all by Switzer), and you can see that Carolina is playing with confidence. UNC’s last 23 touchdowns have been scored by freshmen or sophomores, with 11 of those touchdowns coming last week in an 80-20 drubbing of Old Dominion.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

Both teams will use a dual-quarterback system of sorts. For Duke, both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette are expected to play. “You definitely have to be aware (of who’s under center) because they don’t do the same things” Fedora said of both Blue Devil signal-callers. Meanwhile, UNC will feature sophomore Marquise Williams, a proven threat passing AND running. There will also be talented receivers on both sides: Duke WR Jamison Crowder has over 1,000 yards receiving this season, and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is expected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

So it’s five straight wins versus seven straight wins. If Duke wins, they win the Coastal Division. If UNC wins, they win a share of the Coastal Division (with Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech – who would win the tiebreaker). There are BCS standings and bowl implications on the line. And of course, the bell. As Dick Vitale would say, this game is going to be “AWESOME BABY!!!”