Monday, December 7, 2009

Despite what Davis says, Heels can't be excited

Sometimes you just have to wonder if what you read coming from someone's lips is the truth. Now, I'm not about to suggest North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis is anything less than an honest, upstanding fellow but a quote from Davis caught my eye in The Associated Press story Sunday on his team accepting a bid to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

Davis was quoted in the AP story: “Our players are excited to continue their season and play so close to home. We had tremendous fan support at the game in 2008 and we will need that again this year against an outstanding Pittsburgh team.”

The Tar Heels will play in the Meineke Bowl for the second straight year as they make their third consecutive trip to the game in Charlotte, called the Continental Tire Bowl in 2004 when UNC made its first appearance. The Heels have lost both previous meetings and it was my understanding, after speaking with the father of a player from The Wilson Times readership area, the UNC players did not want to return to Charlotte. After all, it's hardly a reward to play in a bowl less than 100 miles away in the same state in cold weather.

North Carolina might have gone to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., to play Kentucky but when the Gator Bowl decided to give Florida State and its retiring head coach Bobby Bowden the spot it would typically hand to the ACC runner-up, in this year's case, Clemson. That pushed Clemson to the Music City Bowl and UNC was facing either the Emerald Bowl or the Meineke Bowl. The Emerald Bowl in San Francisco chose Boston College to play Southern California.

Now I know the thinking in Chapel Hill is that there will be lots of fans in Charlotte and travel expenses are much lower than going to San Francisco. But I wonder if the UNC players think playing in Charlotte against Pittsburgh (another team that lost to N.C. State) is better than spending a few days in one of the world's most scenic cities and facing one of college football's most storied programs.

But hey, the Heels can only blame themselves as losses to Virginia and State put them in this situation, along with Bowden's retirement. I just wonder if Davis' statement was a typical public relations put-a-good-spin-on-it utterance or if the Carolina players really are happy going back to Charlotte. Or maybe they've just fooled him.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Firebirds not favored — again

Southern Nash isn't expected to win at South Johnston on Friday night by Drew Pasteur and his fantastic computer but that's OK because he hasn't projected the Firebirds as a winner since the first round.

Southern Nash is a two-point underdog in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA East Regional championship. Pasteur is coming off his worst week of the season when he got just 65.6 percent (21-11) of his picks correct with just 10 of those coming within a touchdown of his projected margin of victory.

Before the playoffs began, Southern Nash came in at 30-to-1 odds to win the East Regional while South Johnston was listed 11 to 1. Hunt and Gray's Creek, both of whom were beaten by the Firebirds, were 5 to 1.

But Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster and his players are probably more than OK being the underdog yet again.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Southern Nash, Anson County defy the odds

If Southern Nash beats South Johnston in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA East Regional football championship, the No. 11-seeded Firebirds would become just the fourth team seeded 10th or higher to reach a regional final in the eight seasons the NCHSAA has been seeding playoff brackets.

Or the Firebirds could be the fifth team to do it.

Anson County, which visits Belmont South Point for the 3-AA West crown Friday, is a No. 12 seed. This is the first time in NCHSAA playoff seeding history that two seeds higher than 10 could meet for the state championship.

There have been 13 teams seeded 10th or higher to make it to a regional final. Thanks to the diligent work of NCHSAA Associate Executive Director Rick Strunk, I am able to tell you those lucky 13 are:

• 2001, 1-AA No. 10 Gates County (lost to No. 1 Wallace-Rose Hill 42-24 )
• 2003, 3-A No. 11 Northeast Guilford (beat No. West Craven 35-27)
• 2003, 3-AA No. 10 High Point Central (lost to No. 4 Shelby Crest 14-6)
• 2005, 4-AA No. 12 Charlotte Myers Park (lost to No. 2 Charlotte Independence 48-14)
• 2006, 1-AA No. 10 Mount Airy (lost to No. 1 Thomasville 35-7)
• 2006, 2-A No. 10 Clinton (lost to No. 1 Jacksonville Northside 25-0)
• 2006, 3-AA No. 14 Northwest Cabarrus (lost to No. 1 Charlotte Catholic)
• 2006, 4-AA No. 11 Durham Riverside (beat No. 1 Garner 15-13)
• 2007, 2-A No. 10 East Lincoln (lost to No. 5 Lincolnton 21-13)
• 2007, 4-AA No. 10 Charlotte Independence (beat No. 1 West Charlotte)
• 2008, 4-A No. 11 South Mecklenburg (lost to No. 8 Fayetteville Seventy-First 27-6)
• 2009, 3-AA No. 11 Southern Nash (plays No. 1 South Johnston)
• 2009, 3-AA No. 12 Anson County (plays No. 7 Belmont South Point)

So it was 3-A Northeast Guilford in 2003, 4-AA Riverside in 2006 and 4-AA Independence in 2007 to defy the odds and get to a state championship game but, alas, none of them brought home a trophy.

The Firebirds (11-3) have to face No. 1 South Johnston (13-1) which is a natural progession since they've defeated No. 6 Triton (8-4), No. 3 Hunt (8-4) and No. 2 Hope Mills Gray's Creek (12-2). Anson County (10-4) knocked off No. 5 Waxhaw Marvin Ridge (9-2), No. 13 Shelby Crest (7-5) and No. 1 Northern Guilford (12-2) to get to No. 7 South Point (12-2).

It's entirely possible the 3-AA bracket is where NCHSAA underdog history is made this fall and it's all up to Southern Nash and Anson County to make it.

Bowden's retirement means ACC bowl shakeup

Bobby Bowden's announcement that he is retiring as Florida State University's football coach after 34 seasons looks to have repercussions throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Bowden said Tuesday he will step down after the Seminoles' bowl game and that's where it gets sticky. Stewart Verney of The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area reported Wednesday the Gator Bowl is courting FSU but not with the blessing of the ACC.

The Gator Bowl wants FSU because it will be the legendary Bowden's last game but that means the Gator won't take the loser of the ACC title game Saturday between Georgia Tech and Clemson, which it is not contractually obligated to do, Verney reports.

The ACC wants FSU in the Champs Sports Bowl and if that doesn't happen, the ensuing shakeup might move North Carolina out of the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., where the Tar Heels are reported to be going. That means the Tar Heels could either go back to the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte or the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. My guess is the UNC players would prefer to munch on sourdough bread as they take in the gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay from a cable car instead of playing for the second time in three years in Charlotte, which isn't much different from a regular-season game.

The players don't make the final decision on what bowl bid a team accepts. There's way too much money at stake for that to happen. Carolina will play in a bowl game, if invited, and it could mean the Meineke. But if it is, and I'm not a betting man, I'd wager on the Tar Heels' opponent that day.