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Games between ranked teams, like UNC-Virginia Tech, a Kenan Stadium rarity

UNC's Fedora on the atmosphere of playing Virginia Tech

University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora expects a rocking atmosphere in Kenan Stadium as the 17th ranked Tar Heels host the 25th ranked Hokies.
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University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora expects a rocking atmosphere in Kenan Stadium as the 17th ranked Tar Heels host the 25th ranked Hokies.

North Carolina has played more than 490 games at Kenan Stadium since it opened in 1927, and almost 99 percent of them have been unlike the one that’s coming on Saturday between UNC and Virginia Tech.

This isn’t anything like Judgment Day, the Tar Heels’ much-hyped 1997 game against Florida State. Two top-five teams played at Kenan that night, with the Seminoles prevailing in a 20-3 victory. Still, the game coming on Saturday joins an elite club in the history of Kenan Stadium.

UNC (No. 17) and Virginia Tech (No. 25) are both ranked. And so it will be a rare match-up of top 25 teams at Kenan. That doesn’t happen often. The last time two ranked teams played there was in 2008, when No. 21 UNC defeated No. 22 Georgia Tech.

Before that, you have to go back to 1997 for another game between ranked teams at Kenan. There were two that season: No. 7 UNC’s 28-17 victory against No. 17 Stanford, and that Florida State victory against UNC on what was promoted as Judgment Day.

The relatively recent history – three games between ranked teams in the past two decades at Kenan – reflects the rarity of what will happen on Saturday. Kenan Stadium opened in 1927. The Tar Heels this weekend will be playing their 492nd game there.

It will be just the 10th game between ranked teams in the stadium’s 89-year history. The Associated Press top 25 poll debuted in 1936. Here’s the complete list of games between ranked teams at Kenan Stadium:

1937: No. 10 Fordham beats No. 15 UNC, 14-0

1959: No. 18 Clemson beats No. 12 UNC 20-18

1978: No. 17 Maryland beats No. 18 UNC, 21-20

1980: No. 14 UNC beats No. 19 Maryland, 17-3

1981: No. 2 Clemson beats No. 8 UNC, 10-8

1993: No. 1 Florida State beats No. 13 UNC, 33-7

1997: No. 7 UNC beats No. 17 Stanford, 28-17

1997: No. 3 Florida State beats No. 5 UNC, 20-3

2008: No. 21 UNC beats No. 22 Georgia Tech, 28-7

And now Saturday, with No. 17 UNC and No. 25 Virginia Tech becoming the 10th game, ever, between ranked teams at Kenan. It has been a while.

On average, this sort of thing happens once every 49 games at Kenan. That’s how often the stadium, which opened in the middle of Calvin Coolidge’s presidency, has hosted a game between two ranked teams.

If you’re curious how this compares to UNC basketball, consider that the Smith Center opened in 1986. The Tar Heels have played 446 games there, and on average about one out of every six have been between ranked teams.

The Smith Center hosted three such games last season, and four the season before that. In football, meanwhile, UNC has hosted three games, total, between ranked teams in the past 20 years. Saturday will be the fourth in that span.

A rarity, indeed, and another entry, in one sense, into Kenan Stadium’s top 1 percent club.

University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora expects a rocking atmosphere in Kenan Stadium as the 17th ranked Tar Heels host the 25th ranked Hokies.

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