NC State and Duke are the football version of neighbors that put up a privacy fence between their houses.
They might live next door and be aware of what’s happening on the other side of the fence, but it’s rare that they actually see each other and get the chance to say hello.
What was once one of the ACC’s best rivalries has become dormant since the league began its expansion in 2005. Despite being located 25 miles apart in the Triangle, the Wolfpack and Blue Devils have met on the football field only four times since then.
When they get together at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, it will mark the first time in seven years that they’ve played one another.
It’s a situation State coach Dave Doeren finds difficult to understand.
“It’s a natural rivalry,” he said. “You have a team that’s within 30 minutes. We go into every grocery store and you see NC State, you see Duke, you see UNC. There’s stuff everywhere and yet we don’t play them. To me, it’s just a natural rivalry game. It makes sense geographically to play a team that’s that close to you in your own league. So it’s kind of a common-sense deal, in my opinion.”
Common sense, however, is something that hasn’t always been used since college sports conferences began expanding their geographic footprints beyond their traditional boundaries.
So it is with the ACC, which chose to build that proverbial privacy fence between State and Duke when it went to its current divisional format.
Since the Wolfpack reside in the Atlantic Division and the Blue Devils in the Coastal, and because both have UNC as their one permanent cross-divisional opponent, the ACC’s scheduling formula has them meeting only once every seven years.
That means multiple classes of players at both schools have gone their entire careers without taking part in a series that was played for 59 consecutive years from 1945-2003.
“I don’t think that’s fair, and not just because they’re down the street,” Doeren said. “When you come to play in the ACC, you should play every team. It would be great if you could play home-and-home against every ACC team, particularly when you’re talking about a team in the Triangle.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe feels the same way about the scheduling disparity.
But as much as he would like for his team to play members of the Atlantic Division more often, especially State, he knows that the scheduling logistics of a 14-team conference make that a difficult — if not impossible — proposition.
“We have Wake every year. We have North Carolina, which is in our division. I don’t think they’re going to let us both have a travel opportunity (that) the rest of the league would probably throw their hands up on,” Cutcliffe said. “I think fans would love to see that old-fashioned rivalry where we’ve been around in the ACC forever. But football has changed.”
State and Duke were already set to play this season before the ACC’s schedule was amended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ironically, it’s the changes brought about by COVID-19 that could lead to the Wolfpack and Blue Devils playing more often.
“In the midst of what we’re in, we have no idea what next year is going to look like,” Cutcliffe said. “We may be playing nine or 10 conference games every year. That may be what TV wants to see. So in that environment, it would likely have a better chance of happening.”
Although it’s been seven years since the teams have played one another, they’re hardly strangers. Like those anti-social neighbors, both are well aware of how things are going on the other side of the fence.
“The one thing when you don’t play a team is that you still watch everybody,” Doeren said. “I think that’s the one thing that we don’t talk about. In preparation (for other teams), I’ve watched Duke on defense for the past seven years. I’ve watched Duke on offense for the past seven years.”
The same holds true for Cutcliffe.
“I’m very familiar with their players,” he said. “Dave Doeren is a good friend. I think he’s a great football coach, so I try to watch all of the things they’re doing.
“As I’m watching common opponents, you’re always looking at them. I’m following players we may have recruited when they were in high school that you got close to, and I pull for them when we’re not playing each other. So you’re going to keep up with what’s happening with your neighbors, and that’s essentially what they are.”