RALEIGH — Mack Brown didn’t see his shadow tonight, which means there’s four more weeks of UNC football.
Carolina's 41-10 victory in the rain, at the end of a long and listless year of football around Raleigh, ended a losing streak to its rival and ensured a reservation for a holiday bowl in some sunny clime.
Or maybe Shreveport.
For the Wolfpack, home for Christmas actually sounds good.
Maybe in a year or so, we’ll look back to this season as the start of something. Maybe this was the beginning of a legitimate run back to legitimacy for Brown and the Tar Heels. Or maybe it was just another bland football season in a bland football state.
Outside of Boone, does anyone in North Carolina really want to watch more college football?
Brown sure does.
"This win gives your fans, your boosters, a chance to walk into work on Monday with a smile on their face," he said.
And after a couple of years of bad Mondays at UNC, this was a pretty good Saturday night.
Comparing this season to past UNC seasons, making a bowl game in Brown’s first year back as the Carolina coach is indeed an accomplishment. The year will be remembered for the fast start with wins over South Carolina and Miami, not so much the losses to Wake and Appalachian.
But most every UNC fan who wondered why the school was taking a chance on a 68-year-old retiree is likely satisfied with a 6-6 record and bowl bid. This year is not the barometer.
That comes in the years to follow as Brown attempts to lock up state recruiting, as he did the first time he coached at UNC, and aspires to do more than win state titles in a state that doesn’t care about college football.
Wake won that this season, by the way.
In related news, Brown said this week that Wake is no longer a rival.
The Heels will bring in a nationally ranked recruiting class next season with the top three in-state players coming to Chapel Hill and possibly four of the top five when all is said and done. Brown has also convinced two State signees to flip.
A window seems to be opening for UNC. Clemson is off the schedule for the next five years.
So while the 4-4 ACC record sounds like a season stuck in time, it’s worth noting that this was a rebuilding year with players left over from Larry Fedora and a freshman quarterback.
And while last week’s attendance for a home game against Mercer was a bad look, Carolina was one of only a handful of schools in the country to sell out all of its games, nothing less than a miracle for a school so steeped in basketball that it ultimately convinced Brown to leave UNC for Texas his first time in Chapel Hill.
He has promised not to leave this time.
So the first season is basically over, though four more weeks of practice and then a bowl game awaits. The win over State was one of the final boxes the Heels wanted to check off this season.
The bigger boxes are down the road.
Carolina can make holiday plans for now and worry later about what comes next. For the Pack, the future is uncertain. State fans are irritated with Coach Dave Doeren now, despite knowing this was going to be a long year. If indeed he’s already losing recruits to Brown, and if indeed the Pack is once again recruiting against ECU every year, we’re right back where we were a few years ago.
Then again, in this series, the years run together and football seasons repeat like Groundhog Days. When one team gets traction, it tends to last for years.
Carolina defeated its rival at the end of a long season and a dark period at UNC. At the very least, it extended a season for the Heels and put State out of its misery.
If this is really another era for Brown and Carolina, we just saw the beginning.
Still, 6-6 (4-4) sounds a lot like a recurring dream.
But in this state, the dream usually ends in a nightmare. And then basketball season.