In-State College Preview: Big Four and ECU

The college football season kicks off tomorrow and to get you ready for the season, is going to take a look at what is in store for the Big Four and East Carolina as the 2007 season gets underway.

There are plenty of questions in the Triangle as both North Carolina and NC State begin the season with new head coaches. Butch Davis, the former Miami head coach, takes over in Chapel Hill and former Boston College coach Tom O’Brien is the new man in Raleigh. UNC supporters have been looking to land a big name coach for a while and it looks like the Tar Heels have done just that in Davis. Davis had plenty of success with the Hurricanes and those around the UNC program are eager to see if he can do the same thing in Chapel Hill. While it will likely take some time for Davis to rebuild a Carolina program that hit rock bottom under former coach John Bunting, don’t be surprised if the Carolina team performs better than expected for their first year coach.

Over in Raleigh, the NC State program has also floundered in recent years and the perceived lack of discipline surrouding former head coach Chuck Amato’s teams led to the coach’s ouster after last season. State AD Lee Fowler surprised many when he offered the job to the then Boston College coach O’Brien. After the initial shock of the move subsided, many in the Wolfpack nation began to see the logic in Fowler’s decision. O’Brien, a former Marine and graduate of the Naval Academy is the anti-Amato. O’Brien might be just what the doctor ordered to cure the Pack of the undisciplined play and silly mistakes that have plagued the team during its recent subpar campaigns.

While their neighbors in Raleigh and Chapel Hill are looking to rebuild their programs, the folks at Duke are just looking for any sign of progress. Time may be running out on head coach Ted Roof, whose tenure in Durham began with some promise. To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, the excuse that a small, private school can’t be expected to compete in big time college football seems to have been disproven when last season, a small, private school in Winston-Salem won the ACC Championship.

Speaking of that school in Winston-Salem, the big question for the Deacons is what is head coach Jim Grobe and company going to do for an encore after last season’s improbable run to the top of the ACC standings. Surprisingly, many in the media believe that Wake Forest isn’t going to do much. Many outlets have picked Wake to finish 4th in the six team Atlantic Division behind Clemson, FSU, and Boston College. These lower exceptations might play right into Jim Grobe’s plans. If Grobe can convience his team that they still have something to prove and that they have not received the respect that they have earned as league champions, Wake could once again be a team that opposing coaches dread seeing on their schedule.

Down east, the folks in Greenville are hoping to continue to build on the positive momentum that coach Skip Holtz has going at ECU. The Pirates, who went to a bowl game last year for the first time since 2001, hit the ground running in 2007 as ECU heads to Blacksburg tomorrow for a season opening match-up with #9 Virginia Tech.

So, what are the key match-ups for each of the above mentioned teams in 2007? In Raleigh, the second game of year, when the Pack travels to Boston College next week will be a big one. The Wolfpack will face Tom O’Brien’s former team and this will definately be a statement game. On Sept. 29th, Louisville comes to Carter-Finley Stadium and this one could get ugly. On the other hand, a Pack upset could make NC State’s season.

In Chapel Hill, the first two weeks of October could be telling. With back to back visits from Miami and South Carolina, Butch Davis should know which direction his Tar Heel team is heading.

In Durham, Duke’s best chance for a win might be tomorrow when UConn comes to Wallace Wade Stadium.

The next two weeks will be huge for Wake Forest. The Deacon’s season could be defined by their first two games of the year. Tomorrow, Wake heads to Boston College to open their defense of the ACC Championship and next week, Nebraska comes to Winston-Salem.

As we talked about earlier, ECU will have a tough test against an emotionally charged group from Va. Tech tomorrow. The Pirates also have a tough road game on Sept. 22nd at West Virginia.

We’ll end our 2007 In-State Preview with a couple of fearless predictions. UNC and NC State should both have rebuilding seasons but there will be a couple of bright spots this year and that should provide hope for the future. In Winston-Salem, this season won’t be as good as last year but a middle tier bowl is a realistic goal. The Ted Roof era should end Durham after another winless season by the Blue Devils. ECU should be bowl bound once again. The best story in North Carolina will be in Boone as Jerry Moore and company go after their third straight National Championship. Don’t bet against the ‘Neers to take home the title again.