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All-Carolina College Football Poll: UNC and NC State are more alike than they’ll admit

And just like that, it’s mid-September.

Slightly cooler temperatures, slightly shorter days, but some things don’t ever change around here: Clemson atop the All-Carolina poll (extending its record of consecutive appearances at No. 1) while a team from the Triangle suffers through another existential crisis.

Last week it was North Carolina, working through it after that opening-game defeat at Virginia Tech. This week it’s N.C. State, after falling flat in a two-touchdown loss at Mississippi State. All things considered, it could’ve used more cowbell. And maybe some more Wolfpack points, in the name of maintaining viewer interest.

Speaking of the Wolfpack and Tar Heels … has anyone ever seen these teams in the same room? We live in an age of truly insane conspiracy theories, and relative to some of them it’s not terribly unreasonable to believe that UNC and N.C. State are, in fact, the same team. Not always, of course. And not every season. And, certainly, UNC’s dominance in the head-to-head the past two years has something to say about the margin between the programs.

But outside of the occasional breakout season — UNC won its division in 2015; N.C. State reportedly won 11 games sometime this century — and outside of the occasional season that dies on arrival, the greatest joy the Tar Heels and Wolfpack offer their fans is often the ability to laugh at the opposing group. This week the Tar Heels are laughing, but let us remember the profound words of Maya Angelou, applicable to life and all things light blue and red in college football:

“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Onto Week 2 of the poll:

1. Clemson (1-1)

Previous ranking: 1

Last week: W 49-3 vs. South Carolina State

Up next: vs. Georgia Tech, Saturday

Turns out that all the Tigers’ offense needed was to stop playing against one of the nation’s best defenses (in Georgia) and instead start playing against an overmatched FBS team (in South Carolina State). File that little trick away for future reference.

2. North Carolina (1-1, 0-1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 4

Last week: W 59-17 vs. Georgia State

Up next: vs. Virginia, Saturday

The latest iteration of The Oldest South Rivalry in the South comes with great implications this weekend, and we’re not just talking about those friendly wagers of Vineyard Vines gift cards, or the right to talk some smack at the firm’s next wine mixer. No, folks, the Coastal Division will be decided on games like these.

3. Coastal Carolina (2-0)

Previous ranking: 3

Last week: W 49-22 vs. Kansas

Up next: at Buffalo, Saturday

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in a Myrtle Beach establishment or two over the weekend, when members of the Jayhawks’ traveling party (some people had to have made that trip, right) experienced a little taste of Dirty Myrtle, maybe for the first time. You’re not in Kansas anymore, indeed.

4. Appalachian State (1-1)

Previous ranking: 5

Last week: L 25-23 at Miami

Up next: vs. Elon, Saturday

The Mountaineers have reached such a point in its trajectory that a two-point defeat at Miami isn’t the least bit surprising — it’s almost more so that App didn’t win. If ever there was a match-up between a program that has maximized its potential in recent times against one that continuously squanders it, it was the Mountaineers vs. Hurricanes.

5. N.C. State (1-1)

Previous ranking: 2

Last week: L 24-10 at Mississippi State

Up next: vs. Furman, Saturday

Oh, Wolfpack. Everything was set up on a tee. A nationally-televised night game, on the road against a middling SEC opponent. A winnable game, to be sure. But the Wolfpack never win these kinds of games, which is why no one could’ve been too surprised that it lost on Saturday.

6. Wake Forest (2-0)

Previous ranking: 7

Last week: W 41-16 vs. Norfolk State

Up next: vs. Florida State, Saturday

The good thing about opening the season with the likes of Old Dominion and Norfolk State? You’ll probably be 2-0. The bad thing? You also might not know all that much about your team. We’ll start to learn more about the Demon Deacons this weekend, though that depends in part, too, on which Florida State team shows up.

7. South Carolina (2-0)

Previous ranking: 6

Last week: W 20-17 at ECU

Up next: at Georgia, Saturday

First 2-0 start for the Gamecocks since 2017, and it doesn’t even matter all that much that the wins are against two schools with variations of “East” in the name (Eastern Illinois and ECU, if you’re counting). Yes, South Carolina is likely to receive large dose of reality this weekend against Georgia, but for now take what you can get in Columbia.

8. Charlotte (2-0)

Previous ranking: 8

Last week: W 38-10 vs. Gardner-Webb

Up next: at Georgia State, Saturday

Is it unreasonable to suggest that Georgia State stands to offer Charlotte its most difficult test of this young season — one even tougher than what Duke provided? Probably not. A victory would give the 49ers their second 3-0 start in school history, though their first at the FBS level.

9. ECU (0-2)

Previous ranking: 9

Last week: L 20-17 vs. South Carolina

Up next: at Marshall

The Pirates entered the season with no shortage of optimism, but after defeats against Appalachian State and a vulnerable South Carolina team, the air is out of the balloon in Greenville. If this season is about finishing with a winning record and qualifying for a bowl, the turnaround has to start soon — and doesn’t appear all that likely.

10. Duke (1-1)

Previous ranking: 10

Last week: W 45-17 vs. North Carolina A&T

Up next: vs. Northwestern, Saturday

Looked a little dicey early for Duke against A&T, before the Blue Devils found themselves. Now comes a classic ACC-Big Ten grudge match. Did you know that Duke and Northwestern are 10-10 against each other, all time? This makes perfect sense, does it not?

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All-Carolina College Football Poll for Week 3 of the 2021 season. Matt L. Stephens
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Andrew Carter spent 10 years covering major college athletics, six of them covering the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. Now he’s a member of The N&O’s and Observer’s statewide enterprise and investigative reporting team. He attended N.C. State and grew up in Raleigh dreaming of becoming a journalist.

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