CHAPEL HILL — In the past two football meetings between North Carolina and N.C. State, UNC has had the better record and more at stake, but the Wolfpack has played the role of spoiler.
With N.C. State (7-3, 4-2 ACC) in the Atlantic Division lead, and with one more win than UNC, the roles will be reversed for Saturday's game at Kenan Stadium, the 100th between the rivals.
And that's OK with UNC senior quarterback T.J. Yates, under one condition.
"Hopefully the outcome will be flip-flopped, too," Yates said.
The Tar Heels (6-4, 3-3) have lost three straight to the Wolfpack, a fact lost on no one at the Kenan Center on Monday. The past two losses have cost the Tar Heels.
In 2008, a 41-10 loss in Chapel Hill knocked them out of the Coastal Division race and down in the ACC bowl order.
In 2009, UNC took an 8-3 record into the regular-season finale in Raleigh with hopes of a bowl trip to Florida, either the Champs Sports or Gator, and the 28-27 loss knocked them back to the Charlotte bowl.
Two of UNC's seniors are split on why they're winless against the Wolfpack. Yates said it's because the players have too much emphasis on the rivalry while safety Deunta Williams said the players haven't put enough into the rivalry, treating it like another game.
UNC coach Butch Davis has steadfastly maintained throughout his four-year tenure that the approach for every game, whether it's McNeese State or N.C. State, is the same and what UNC does is more important than what the opponent does.
Davis, who's 0-3 vs. State as UNC's coach, was quick to add Monday, though, that: "It's a game, that obviously I think that everybody associated with this program wants to win very badly."
UNC leads the all-time series 63-30-6 and won 11 of 14 between 1993 and 2006. Former UNC coach John Bunting, Davis' predecessor, made the series a point of emphasis. Almost a quarter of his ACC wins (four of 18) came against the Pack.
Williams said he thought the Wolfpack players have wanted to win the game more in the past three seasons.
"Coach Davis doesn't really put one team above the other," Williams said. "It's obvious that these guys kind of have us circled all year. Maybe it's not like that this year, [but] when we step on the field the players have to take it more personal than just the coach saying, 'It's just another game.' "
Yates disagreed. He said the players have taken the game too personally and it has affected their preparation.
"We've made it too much about State and not enough about us," Yates said. "I think we've put too much emphasis on it as far as players and coaches, and we need to get back to just playing football."
Yates and Williams anticipate a healthy amount of smack talk. Yates said the NCAA investigation, which cost UNC stars Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn, has provided plenty of message-board fodder for some Wolfpack fans and perhaps their players.
"That was one of the things I was thinking of, that they're probably loving it over there," Yates said. "I bet you they'll probably have a lot of stuff to say during the game and who knows what. It should be interesting."
While UNC has been eliminated from its division race, the outcome of this game could affect the bowl order for both teams. A win by UNC could move them up to the Champs Sports Bowl, third in the ACC order, in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 28. A loss could knock them down to the Music City Bowl, sixth in the ACC, in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 30.
At 6-4 UNC is already bowl eligible, and with eight ACC bowl tie-ins the Tar Heels likely will play in a third straight bowl game even if they don't beat N.C. State or Duke in their final two games.
A UNC win would knock the Wolfpack down in the bowl order and out of the Atlantic Division driver's seat.
"That means nothing to me," Williams said. "All I care about is just beating them."
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