•Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: the 'state championship' in college football is not a recognized title. There's no tournament, there's no trophy, there's no banner. To the college football world, programs are defined by bowl wins and conference and national championships. But within the walls of the Kenan Football Center, being acknowledged as the premier program in the state of North Carolina is supremely important.
When Larry Fedora arrived at Carolina, he recognized the wealth of football talent in the state. One of his first stated objectives was to reach out to those high school players and impart to them the idea that they can reach their dreams and goals without having to leave their home state. Next comes convincing those players that Chapel Hill is the best place to play within those borders. To do that, it's up to Fedora and his staff and players to execute on the football field.
This season, Carolina has five in-state opponents on the schedule. There are, of course, the three ACC opponents (Wake Forest, Duke and NC State), Elon (from the FCS Southern Conference) and East Carolina (Conference USA). Winning a state championship is a very real goal for a team barred from postseason play."That's one of our major goals, is to be state champs," Fedora said Monday. "[Wake Forest] is our second team in the state that we're playing, so it's very, very important. Our guys understand it. Under our circumstances, there are certain things that we can reach, and this is one of them, and so we're going to work hard toward that."
"We want to achieve that we can be the best team in the state," Bryn Renner said, "but it starts one game at a time. We're just trying to be 1-0 on Saturday and let the rest take care of itself."
You'd have to go back to the 2004 season to find a credible Carolina claim to the state championship. Those Tar Heels, led by Darian Durant, were 3-0 against NC State, Duke and Wake Forest. The 2005 Tar Heels went 2-0 against Duke and NC State, but did not play Wake Forest, who beat the Blue Devils and Wolfpack and added a win over East Carolina. Since then, Carolina is 11-8 against in-state teams.
For linebacker Kevin Reddick, Carolina winning a state championship would be a piece of achieving a greater goal in his senior season. "Like I said at the beginning of training camp, [our goal] is to win 12 games. Why not set that standard now?" Though he'll have played his last game in Carolina blue, Reddick is intent on laying the foundation for the Tar Heel teams fo the future. "Set that bar high, and teams will know what to expect next year. They'll just have to bring it to the guys, and the guys will have to bring it next year. The goal is go out there and win 12 games," he said.
•Last week's 62-0 win over Elon gave the Tar Heels some film of themselves against an opponent. It allowed them to see what they did and didnt do well to correct mistakes and move forward. Sophomore cornerback Tim Scott said he liked what he saw. "We really didn't know how good our defense was going to be, transitioning from last year into the 4-2-5, and I felt like we did pretty good going into the game on Saturday. But the past is the past, and now we have Wake Forest."
Scott said defensive coordinator Dan Disch stresses the importance of players having individual goals within the defensive unit. Scott's goal of seven or eight interceptions (he had one against Elon) would put him among the school's single-season leaders (Dre' Bly's 11 in 1996 remains the school record). But beyond that, he wants to win the individual matchups. Carolina was able to limit Elon's Aaron Mellette to just nine yards on two catches. They'll look to continue that success against Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro. "Our goal is to give him less than three catches, probably even none if that's possible," Scott said. "We just really want to have a lockdown defense. Last week was a confidence-builder, so we want to continue to see how good our defense can be."
•Now in his second year as a starter, Bryn Renner gets a chance Saturday to face a team he's seen before. Renner was 21-28 for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Demon Deacons in Chapel Hill last season. Though he's running a completely different offense in 2012, he said there are things he can apply from year to year. "Knowing the caliber team they are and what they want to try to do on defense," he said. "They run a 3-4, so it's tough, (with) three down linemen. They like to blitz a lot, zone blitzes, so we've got our hands full. As a quarterback, I didn't know anything about Wake Forest last year, but now I've got a good head start on them. That's the biggest thing you can learn. You kind of know the scheme and how they're going to play, but everybody always gets better, so it's going to be a challenge on Saturday."
•Though Fedora, Renner and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson all said that Carolina didn't get too deep into the playbook last weekend, the quarterback did catch a pass when Erik Highsmith hit Renner for 18 yards early in the second quarter. "Yes, he did," Anderson said. "Hey, we can have a little fun. He has no yards after the catch, but he did make the catch. These guys work extremely hard, and so when you can do something fun to shake things up, and obviously if it creates an explosive play, that's a plus. If it gets some people in the stands, that's another plus. So, there's a lot of reasons why we do it. If nothing else, it's just an opportunity to have a big play and quit hearing Bryn talk about how good a receiver he was back in junior high."