For UNC, NCSU, Football Season Hopes Dashed Again

Thursday, September 27th 2007, 3:26 pm
By: News On 6

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ Those big dreams of bowl games and winning seasons in Chapel Hill and Raleigh are fading fast, and along this hot bed of big-time college hoops, football season is shaping up as just another fall spent waiting for basketball.

Neither North Carolina coach Butch Davis nor N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien promised any quick fixes when they approved, replacing fired coaches. But their impassioned fans certainly hoped those two big names might generate quick turnarounds _ maybe even prompt speedy returns to relevance in the there-for-the-taking Atlantic Coast Conference.

All that buzz took Tar Heel tailback Ryan Houston by surprise.

``We got Butch Davis, we need to automatically win, win, win,'' Houston said of the incessant hype. ``But it's like, we weren't really good last year, and it's going to take some time for us to build up. We've got the talent. We've just got a whole bunch of young guys, and when we get that chemistry together, we're going to be a really good football team.''

Instead, one-third of the way through the season, the Tar Heels and Wolfpack both have 1-3 records, winless in a combined six games against Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) teams with their only victories coming against teams from the subdivision formerly known as I-AA. That's not something even perennially bad Duke has to claim, not after the Blue Devils knocked off Northwestern to snap a 22-game losing streak.

``I don't know what I expected, but obviously when you're 1-3 you've got some things you have to do a lot better,'' said O'Brien, who came from Boston College to replace the fired Chuck Amato. ``We'll continue to do it. ... We've got two-thirds left to go and no telling, maybe a light will turn on and we can win the rest of our games.''

There's been little evidence of that thus far, and it started with the first play of the O'Brien era: Central Florida's Kevin Smith ran untouched 80 yards for a touchdown to put the Wolfpack in a hole they've spent weeks struggling to escape.

In three games against Bowl Subdivision teams, N.C. State has led for a total of just 3 minutes, 4 seconds, trailing UCF by 22 at halftime and losing badly to ACC rivals Boston College and Clemson, the latter a performance O'Brien described as ``a step back.'' The Wolfpack's biggest claim to fame is beating the Wofford team that later beat the team (Appalachian State) that upset mighty Michigan.

What's more, some of the same old problems that plagued the Wolfpack under Amato have resurfaced under O'Brien, a former Marine hired to restore discipline to the program. They gave Clemson a second chance at a half-ending field goal last week _ which the Tigers converted _ after an offsides penalty on a miss.

``I thought it was going to change around pretty fast,'' safety DaJuan Morgan said. ``When Coach O'Brien came here, a lot of guys bought into the system of what they were trying to do, and team morale was very high and a lot of guys were real focused. I just thought it was going to be a (simple) change, but sometimes change takes time, and right now it's taking time for it to turn around. But once it gets going, I know it's going to take off.''

Said O'Brien: ``I'm a positive guy. I'm going to believe in these guys. A lot of this stuff takes time, and we don't have a lot of time. We've got (a few) days to get ready. We've got to play again.''

Similarly, Davis is preaching preparation and accountability in Chapel Hill, where he took over the North Carolina program last November from fired alumnus John Bunting. The Tar Heels won the opener against Furman of the Championship Subdivision, then lost two tight games to East Carolina and Virginia before coming unglued in a 37-10 loss at South Florida.

``There is zero way you can snap your fingers and expect to play well on Saturday unless you prepare well during the course of the week,'' Davis said. ``There's a mentality, and a whole culture that young kids have to learn.

``They think they're preparing enough. Enough's not enough. When you think you've done enough, you've probably only done about half enough.''

Despite their teams' often dour displays this season, there's plenty of reason for optimism down the road at both schools because both coaches are proven winners.

O'Brien coached Boston College to seven consecutive bowl games from 1999-2005 and departed for N.C. State weeks before the Eagles played their eighth straight. Davis rebuilt a probation-saddled Miami team back into a power that won a national title the year after he left for the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

More than a decade before that, Davis endured more defeats than these Tar Heels could ever worry about racking up in a single season _ he was an assistant with Dallas in 1989 when the Cowboys went 1-15.

Three seasons later, they won the Super Bowl _ the first of three in the 1990s.

``I don't wish (1-15) on anybody, but it was probably one of the best learning experiences,'' Davis said. ``You find out exactly what you believe in, you find out exactly who believes in you and who believes in the process, and ironically ... during that process of 1-15, there were a lot of guys who went through those trials and tribulations who were there to celebrate the three Super Bowls.''