Major college teams rarely visit N.C.

It's a rare occasion when nonconference, top-ranked college football teams play against schools in North Carolina.

Staff WriterSeptember 15, 2010 

  • 3:30 p.m. Saturday; WTVD, WCTI; WDNC-620, WKIX-102.9

Big-time college football teams visit North Carolina about as often as Duke and UNC take their basketball troops to - say - Tuscaloosa, Ala.

It's even rarer that defending national championship teams come to our state for football, but that will happen when Alabama visits Duke on Saturday.

Other than those unusual ACC football national title teams - Maryland 1953, Clemson 1981, Georgia Tech 1990 and Florida State in 1993 and '99 - the last time a defending champ came to the state was Miami at ECU in 1988.

Even the famous Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, 1942, in what is now Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium wasn't a battle for No. 1.

The Blue Devils were ranked No. 2 but lost the game to No. 12 Oregon State during an era when there wasn't a poll ranking after the postseason games. The national title for the '41 season went to 8-0 Minnesota, which didn't accept a bowl bid.

For Duke, a 24-point underdog, Saturday's game covers the opponent trifecta in that the Tide is No. 1, defending national champ and could possibly play running back Mark Ingram, last season's Heisman Trophy winner.

Ingram suffered a knee injury in preseason camp and sat out the team's first two games against San Jose State and Penn State. He returned to practice Monday and may get in for a few plays against the Blue Devils. Just what Duke needs, huh?

In terms of sheer hype, however, Alabama's invasion probably ranks fairly low on the list among in-state non-league football games.

That distinction probably goes to Ohio State's visit to N.C. State early in the 2004 season. The Buckeyes were ranked ninth and State was adjusting to the graduation of quarterback Philip Rivers.

But it was the second game of the season for the Wolfpack and after an opening 42-0 win over Richmond, anticipation was high. Ohio State won the game 22-14 in what might have been the highlight of the season for the Pack, which finished 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the ACC.

You have to go all the way back to Nov. 27, 1937, to find the last time a top-ranked nonconference team visited Duke. That was Pittsburgh, which got a 10-0 win over the No. 18 Blue Devils.

But a little-known, in-state game on Oct. 16, 1948, may forever stand as a landmark in North Carolina football history.

That season, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 and defeated visiting N.C. State 14-0 to set up what looked to be a national title run. But after beating LSU and Tennessee in its next two games, UNC had to settle for a 7-7 tie against William & Mary and wound up behind Michigan and Notre Dame in the final poll.

Back then, N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest were members of the Southern Conference.

Before Miami in 1988, the last time a nonconference No. 1 team was in the state was Notre Dame at UNC on Nov. 14, 1953. The Irish won 34-14 but finished 9-0-1 and No. 2 behind 10-0 Maryland in the final poll.

Maryland, coached by Jim Tatum, then lost to No. 4 Oklahoma 7-0 in the Orange Bowl. But since there was no poll after the bowl games, the Terps were recognized as the national champs.

Tatum coached Maryland for two more seasons, then went to North Carolina, where he had coached in 1942.

After the 1957 season, Alabama lured Bear Bryant away from Texas A&M to rekindle the fire Wallace Wade started in the 1920s. It was then that the Tide began an ascent to the distinction it basically has maintained since.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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