Duke Football will play North Carolina in September for the first time ever this week. Why was the game moved and what does it mean for the rivalry’s future?
For the first time ever, Duke and North Carolina will play in September for the earliest matchup in the history of the rivalry. The game is usually played much later in the season in November, however ACC scheduling caused the rivalry game to be moved earlier in the 2017-18 season. The early matchup is not expected to become a pattern for future rivalry games.
The Atlantic Coast Conference and individual programs set conference and non-conference matchups very early in advance, way before the game days can be set. When it came time to schedule a team for Week 4, the Blue Devils were unable to add their 4th non-conference game on the road against Army. Instead, Duke will face the Black Knights later in the season on November 11th.
In the ACC, Blue Devil opponents Wake Forest, Virginia, Miami, and Virginia Tech were immediately eliminated because of previously scheduled non-conference games. Duke also preferred not to start the season with four straight home contests to balance home/away games throughout the year.
The team was already set to host NCCU, Northwestern, and Baylor in non-conference play to start the season. That eliminated the remaining conference games FSU, Pitt, and Georgia Tech, leaving UNC as the only option for Week 4.
Head coach David Cutcliffe has admitted it’s weird preparing for the Tobacco Road rivalry game early, joking “It must be November, we’re playing North Carolina” in a media press conference on Tuesday.
However, Cutcliffe is not new to early rivalry games. During his time as head coach at Tennessee, he noted UT competes against Florida early in one of their biggest games every season. For example, this year’s Florida-Tennessee matchup was actually in Week 3 last weekend.
Despite the early start, both teams still realize the significance of this game. Duke has a chance to improve and make a statement on the road in their ACC opener and go 4-0, while UNC is looking to turn their season around after a 1-2 start. The game will take place this weekend at 3:30 and will be televised on ESPNU.