Warning: Road hazards ahead for NC football teams

Silencing hostile crowd not easy for Tar Heels, Wolfpack, Blue Devils

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • More information Road to nowhere Nothing is easy about winning away from home. According to the NCAA, road teams won 37 percent of the time in the past 10 seasons. North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and East Carolina will pllay roady games Saturday. Here’s how each has fared from 2006 through 2012 (records include neutral site games). Team;Record;Notable win away from home ECU;19-24;Boise State, 41-38, 2007 Hawaii Bowl UNC;13-22;FSU, 37-35, 2010 N.C. State;10-24;UNC, 41-10, 2008 Duke;8-25;N.C. State, 49-28, 2009

It’s not a myth: It is tougher to win football games on the road.

Nationally, since 1996, there has only been one year in which home teams have won fewer than 60 percent of games. Last season, home teams posted a .644 winning percentage, according to the NCAA, the second-best percentage in 46 years.

Saturday, N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke and East Carolina will be on the road. The trips range from a bus ride (the Tar Heels will spend Friday night in Greensboro before their 3 p.m. game at Wake Forest) to an almost six-hour flight that crosses through three time zones, with the Blue Devils’ trip to Stanford.

Historically, the road has not been kind to the three ACC schools. Since 2006, North Carolina has had the most “success” with a 13-22 record (.371). Duke has struggled the most, going 8-25 (.242), and N.C. State falls in the middle at 10-24 (.294).

The remedy: Prepare for road games the same as home games, as much as possible.

“We try to make home games, away games all the same for us,” first-year Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said. “Obviously, we’re not in Kenan Stadium, but our preparation and everything we do right up until game time we try to do exactly the same way we do at home, other than just the travel time itself.

“Hopefully that routine we get in makes our guys feel comfortable.”

Not all road trips are equal, though. Better to go north or south than west, all three coaches agree.

“I’ve been in every situation and gone both ways,” said Fedora, who at Southern Mississippi had conference opponents an hour ahead in the Eastern Time Zone. “It’s always a bit more difficult to cross time zones.”

The Wolfpack will travel to Connecticut, but coach Tom O’Brien downplayed the idea that the 80-minute flight north would have any impact on the team’s preparations.

But he offered the unsolicited opinion that Duke had a tough trip.

“Looking at the trip that Duke has to take, I did that at Boston College and had to go to Stanford,” said O’Brien, whose Eagles team lost 38-22 in 2001. “That makes a difference when you cross time zones.”

The data suggests Fedora and O’Brien are correct. Over the past five years, Pac-12 teams have won 75 percent of home games against opponents from the Eastern Time Zone.

“They got us when we went out there, but then they came back East (in 2002), we made them play at 12 o’clock, so it was 9 in the morning, so we won that one,” O’Brien said. “It kind of evened out."

Duke’s David Cutcliffe loves playing on the road, a feeling that dates to his SEC days as an assistant at Tennessee and head coach at Mississippi.

“I like the closeness of the team travel,” he said. “There’s nothing more fun. In the old days, in the SEC, a chance to go hush 90,000 people, how fun is that? And you do it through focus, execution, that kind of intensity. Getting on that bus from the motel and taking that ride, if you’ve done it, that is a great feeling. I hope these guys embrace it.”

Good feel for the road

In the five years Cutcliffe has been at Duke, the Blue Devils have had a better road winning percentage (7-14, .333) than they’ve had at home (9-19, .321).

“It’s kind of cool to see all the different stadiums and things like that,” said quarterback Sean Renfree, who added that the adjustment to a new locale is relatively easy. “Obviously, all the fields are the same size.”

Historically, Duke has done relatively well when crossing time zones, going 2-3 in the past 10 years. A 20-14 win at Northwestern in 2007 broke a 22-game losing streak and prompted students in Durham to tear down a goalpost at Wallace Wade.

If the Blue Devils want to win their first road game against a ranked opponent in 41 years, they’ll have to adjust to the three-hour time difference quickly.

They do have a plan. After consulting with NFL players, including Peyton Manning, Cutcliffe decided to leave Friday instead of Thursday, as he did while at Tennessee.

“I can’t get on their time in two days,” Cutcliffe said. “The only science I understand to going early is to get used to the time zone. I’m more tired the second day.”

As far as how Duke’s players handle the switch, Cutcliffe has repeatedly said this week that he’s not worried. The Blue Devils will sleep in until 11 a.m. EDT on Saturday before the 10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff.

“I kid about it, but it’s the truth: kids today, college-aged kids today go out starting at about 10:30 or 11,” he said. “I just told our guys, it’s a 10:30 kickoff Eastern, I want them on the prowl for three hours.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service