CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren says he saved his job by once beating North Carolina. Larry Fedora could use a victory in the rivalry to cap a disappointing season.
The Wolfpack (7-3, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) visit the Tar Heels (2-8, 1-6) on Saturday looking to extend their winning streak in the neighborhood rivalry.
N.C. State has won the last two meetings in the series with the first of those in 2016 serving as what Doeren believes has been the turning point for his program. Starting with that 28-21 upset in their last visit to Kenan Stadium, the Wolfpack have gone 17-7 while winning 10 of their last 15 ACC games — second only to perennial league champion Clemson in that time span.
"Probably saved my job — winning that game, you know," Doeren said. "So I wouldn't be standing here today, had ... we not won that game."
Now it's the Tar Heels who could use a bit of role reversal. North Carolina has lost 20 of 26 games over the past two-plus seasons with only three of those victories coming against FBS teams — though the one this season was over eventual Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh.
The struggles have led to questions about Fedora's job status. The seventh-year coach says he has weekly conversations with athletic director Bubba Cunningham, but says those discussions center solely on that week's game. Asked about the high points of his tenure in Chapel Hill, Fedora said "I don't have time to reminisce right now about what's going on or what's happened in the past.
"It's more about what do we need to do to win this football game on Saturday?" he said.
North Carolina's slide is more remarkable considering it had gone 18-5 and won an ACC Coastal Division title immediately before that. And the Tar Heels have lost their share of close games during that stretch, including blowing winnable games against Virginia Tech (22-19 loss) and at No. 19 Syracuse (double-overtime loss) before losing 42-35 at Duke. The most glaring problem has been UNC's inability to recover with reliable play at quarterback since Mitch Trubisky left a year early to become the No. 2 overall NFL draft pick after the 2016 season.
N.C. State has controlled the recent series. The Wolfpack can claim a three-year win streak for the second time in roughly a decade. N.C. State won five straight from 2007-11, has won three of four meetings and has won the past two in Chapel Hill.
The Wolfpack have clinched a bowl berth for the fifth straight season — the second-longest bowl streak in school history — and their next chance to match the program record will come in 2020. N.C. State went to the postseason in the seven straight years from 1988-94.
SHOT AT 10
N.C. State still has a shot to get to 10 wins for only the second time in program history. A win at UNC followed by a home win against East Carolina on Dec. 1 (a game added to replace a canceled game against West Virginia due to a hurricane) would put the Wolfpack at nine wins for the second straight season entering a bowl game. The only other N.C. State team to reach double figures in wins was one led by longtime NFL quarterback Philip Rivers in 2002 (11 wins).
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