From Ken Tysiac on ACC Now:
The biggest question in North Carolina during preseason practice isn't who's going to catch the ball for the Tar Heels.
It's not whether Duke can reach a bowl game, or who is going to replace Nate Irving at N.C. State.
The most obvious question crystallized after the USA Today coaches' poll was released today. Locally, there is a lot of excitement about both North Carolina and N.C. State after both schools reached bowl games in the same season in 2008 for the first time since 2001.
There is a sense locally that both teams are on about the same level. Yet nationally, that's not the case.
North Carolina was ranked No. 20 by the coaches, receiving 293 votes. N.C. State wasn't even within sniffing distance of the top 25, as it received just seven votes.
The most interesting question of this preseason is, why is North Carolina so highly respected nationally compared to N.C. State?
If you look objectively at the teams' rosters, the talent level should be about even. The Tar Heels return nine starters on defense and have a lot of team speed. N.C. State has a strong defensive front but faces questions about who's going to replace Irving and who's going to start at two key positions in the secondary.
On offense, N.C. State looks stronger than North Carolina on the line, at running back, at quarterback with first-team All-ACC performer Russell Wilson returning, and especially at wide receiver.
With returner T.J. Graham and place-kicker Josh Czajkowski giving the Wolfpack two returning special teams standouts, an objective analysis probably has to give N.C. State a slight edge over North Carolina in terms of overall personnel.
So why is North Carolina so far ahead of N.C. State in the national spotlight?
One thought is that national analysts and poll voters are more likely to look at last year's record as a big indication of how this year's team will fare. They are likely to know that North Carolina was 8-5 last season and N.C. State was 6-7.
They are less likely to know that N.C. State crushed North Carolina 41-10 in Kenan Stadium, or that the Wolfpack could have finished with five straight wins because it was dominating the Papajohns.com Bowl against Rutgers before Wilson was injured right before halftime.
Another thought is that although N.C. State's Tom O'Brien might be every bit as good a coach as Butch Davis, the Davis name coupled with that of North Carolina carries more weight nationally. Davis is recognized as the guy who led glamour school Miami back to prominence after inheriting a probation-strapped program. He has been a head coach in the NFL and knows what it's like to win the Super Bowl after an assistant's role in the Dallas Cowboys dynasty.
And North Carolina's constant success in basketball might help the Tar Heel program generate a bit more national name recognition than N.C. State gets.
Tom O'Brien has a strong coaching pedigree after reviving the Boston College program and training under longtime Virginia stalwart George Welsh. But O'Brien's resume isn't as glitzy as that of Davis.
Whatever the case, the preseason hype about North Carolina gives N.C. State and its fans plenty of motivation for this season. And as O'Brien likes to say, it doesn't take much to excite Wolfpack Nation.