CHAPEL HILL — From the beginning of the season, North Carolina's football players insisted they would let their play do the talking, focus on one game at a time, and wait until the end of the season to judge their overall performance.
But one victory away from bowl eligibility entering Saturday's game against Miami, cornerback Jabari Price apparently forgot his team's talking points Monday.
"We're not really getting no respect," said the sophomore, who missed the first four games of the season because of a hand injury. "As you can see, we're 5-1, and we're still not ranked. ... In order to make a statement to the world, we have to show up and eat at the end of the season, right here, right now.
"... We talk about it all the time. You see teams like Virginia Tech, they're 5-1 but they're ranked. Obviously, being ranked is not a big deal to me, but it shows a sign of disrespect to me, personally. I feel like we're one of the better teams in the country right now, and we're playing like it."
Price's statement about where UNC ranks in the national pecking order might be a stretch, considering the Tar Heels beat, but failed to blow out, a subpar Louisville team Saturday. Its defense also has yet to live up to preseason expectations.
But with six games left - all against ACC foes - UNC remains in the conference race, something that doesn't surprise interim coach Everett Withers even after a tumultuous four months that saw UNC abruptly fire coach Butch Davis and respond to an NCAA Notice of Allegations after a year-long investigation into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct.
"I don't know if 'surprised' is the word," said Withers, the first Tar Heels coach to begin his tenure 5-1 since Ray Wolf in 1936. "I think, we thought if we would play the way we could play - and we haven't, at times - if we just played and stayed with the plan, then we'd have a chance to have some success."
If UNC wins Saturday, it would mark the fourth straight season of bowl eligibility for the Tar Heels. And according to team spokesman Kevin Best, although UNC faces an Oct. 28 meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, the school remains confident it will play in a bowl if it reaches the six-win threshold.
Typically, the NCAA does not rule on penalties until eight to 12 weeks after the hearing, which likely would be after the bowl season. Plus, Best added, a postseason ban is speculation at this point. It wasn't included in UNC's list of self-sanctions that it imposed last month in response to the NCAA's allegations notice.
So with a bowl bid on the line and the ACC championship still in the mix, Price said the team is "shooting for the stars" in the second half of the season, because "we got tired of trying to be 8-5; 8-5 is almost a mediocre performance, and this team is far from mediocre."
Told of Price's comments, sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner shook his head and sighed, saying he still would prefer to stay under the radar and worry about one week a time, rather than to focus on whether the team is respected or in the Top 25.
"It doesn't bother me," Renner said. "I don't think it bothers our team, to be honest. I'm the exact opposite of (Price) because the rankings don't matter right now at all. It's only week (seven), and there's a ton of football left out there. I'd rather be ranked at the end of the season than right now. I'll have to have a chat with that young man."
Briefly: The Tar Heels' starting lineup Saturday was missing center Cam Holland, linebackers Kevin Reddick and Ebele Okakpu and kicker Casey Barth. Withers said he was hopeful some of those players would return this weekend, but he didn't know which ones.