The matchup is a microcosm of the two university’s overall images. While perennial basketball power UNC often finds themselves daydreaming of hoops the upcoming March when they take the field against the garnet and gold in the fall, FSU carried the ACC’s football reputation year in and year out.
A proud, successful overall athletic program in their own right, North Carolina has still flashed in football a few seasons in their history as well. However, against FSU the Tar Heels have often been the sideshow, opening act for the main event national championship-contending Noles.
In addition to going 2-0-1 in the three games before the Seminoles joined the ACC, FSU won 9 straight over UNC from 1992-2000 (covered below).
But then, in 2001, it happened.
Winless in the series’ first 12 contests, North Carolina finally had their way in Chapel Hill. At first, everything seemed like clockwork once again for Florida State: ranked #6 in the nation, 2-0 and seemingly headed for a fifteenth straight top-four season when freshman quarterback Chris Rix threw a touchdown pass in the second quarter to tie the game at 7. From there, 5 turnovers doomed the Noles, who were shockingly outscored 34-0 in the second half for a 41-9 UNC victory.
While an ominous sign for Florida State’s status as a constant national title threat, the 2001 game certainly did not usher in a new era of North Carolina toppling FSU. Back in Doak Campbell in 2002, UNC couldn’t cover receiver Anquan Boldin, who had 3 touchdowns in the 40-14 revenge.
In a season opener the next year, FSU racked up 29 first downs and turned back the clock for a 37-0 snoozer. In 2004, Florida State jumped out to a two-possession lead and never relinquished it off the legs of running back Leon Washington (153 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries).
When the ACC expanded, it halted the 13 straight years the two schools faced off, with the next game coming in 2009.
Staring down the possibility of a 2-5 record and trailing 17-3 in the second quarter, FSU had one last double-digit comeback left in Bobby Bowden’s illustrious career. Red-hot quarterback Christian Ponder tossed 3 second-half touchdowns in the 30-27 win, including a 98-yarder to wideout Rod Owens that tied the freeze touchdown to Snoop Minnis against Clemson in 2000 for the longest play in Seminoles history. Ponder also connected with tight end Beau Reliford on a beautiful 18-yarder for the game-winner with six minutes to play.
In a strange coincidence, history repeated itself when North Carolina won by the same score (37-35) in Tallahassee in 2010 and 2016. Both games came down to a last-second field goal. Ace returner Greg Reid appeared to set-up a game-winner in 2010 with a clutch kick return late in the game, but FSU missed the field goal.
When UNC got their shot at a game-winning kick, they capitalized. But there was more to the story than that- FSU fell behind 21-0 and stormed back led by tailback Dalvin Cook’s 140 rushing and 106 receiving yards. After the Noles finally took the lead 35-34 with only 23 seconds left, somehow North Carolina went 38 yards in 9 seconds (assisted by a pass interference penalty) to set up their winning field goal.
Florida State fans may have felt the pain of a few tight losses in the past two matchups, but according to legend the worst pain of all may have been a winter cold during the series’ original game.
In one of the coldest games in Florida State’s history, the Noles and UNC met up for the very first time in the 1983 Peach Bowl. Frostbite rather than football might be the first thing that comes to mind for FSU fans in attendance for the game in Atlanta. For a fanbase that is used to September games with high 90’s temperatures, the mid-20’s with an even lower wind-chill that day was a slap in the face.
Everyone for both teams were happy for the game to be over when the clock hit zero, but none happier than lanky wideout Weegie Thompson. Thompson grabbed 2 passes, both for touchdowns, in the 28-3 Florida State win. In 1985, FSU used a 17-0 fourth quarter to take down North Carolina in the first game in Chapel Hill.
Just days after the tragedy of losing offensive lineman Pablo Lopez to a gunshot murder on campus, FSU and UNC tied 10-10 in Doak in 1986. Kicker Derek Schmidt missed a 37-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.
Former Seminoles running back Mack Brown was hired as UNC head coach in 1988. During his playing days in the early-1970’s, Brown amassed 98 rushing yards off 31 carries plus 10 catches for 76 yards in the garnet and gold.
Then a young coach starting his journey to joining Bobby Bowden as one of the winningest coaches in college football history, Brown would have to measure his Tar Heel program each year against Bowden starting in 1992 when FSU joined the ACC.
A week after Wide Right II in 1992, FSU shook off their only loss of the season with a 36-13 victory over UNC in the first conference game between the schools. While Brown was building UNC into a top-25 caliber program, it wasn’t enough to unseat #1 FSU in 1993. Noles rolled over UNC in the second half for a 33-7 win.
As they did with several of the original 8 ACC teams, Florida State continued to torment North Carolina in 1994 and 1995, extending their winning streak. UNC finally had a team strong enough (10-2 that year) to compete with FSU in 1996, but mother nature again played a huge factor in the game. In an absolute monsoon, running back Warrick Dunn scored the game’s lone touchdown and FSU held the Tar Heel offense to just 187 total yards in 13-0 shutout win.
A marquee matchup came in 1997 in Chapel Hill between #3 Florida State and #5 North Carolina. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and the Noles defense topped the performance from the year before, and then some. Incredibly, FSU held North Carolina to negative-28 yards rushing (!!!) and only 101 passing yards, racking up 9 sacks and 4 turnovers.
Considering the game was a top-five matchup late in the year, the 1997 UNC 20-3 win has to be on the short list for one of the best defensive performances in Florida State history. North Carolina ran out of chances to top FSU with Mack Brown, as he left to become head coach of Texas.
It was the Weinke-to-Warrick show in 1998, as Chris had 338 yards and 2 touchdowns and Peter had 125 and a score. FSU shut down Carolina again in 1999 with a 28-0 first quarter burst. Weinke propped up his Heisman numbers in 2000 with 4 touchdowns in another blowout.
There’s no doubt that when Mack Brown trots out on the field Saturday night against Mike Norvell’s 2020 Seminoles, he will remember not only his playing days but also the battles with the legendary Bowden during Brown’s first tenure with the Tar Heels.
Perhaps, Florida State can rekindle some defensive ghosts of the past against former FSU commit and current star sophomore UNC quarterback Sam Howell.
Year-by-year results (FSU 15 Wins, UNC 3 Wins, 1 Tie):
1983: Florida State 28, North Carolina 3 (*Peach Bowl)
1985: Florida State 20, North Carolina 10
1986: Florida State 10, North Carolina 10
1992: Florida State 36, North Carolina 13
1993: Florida State 33, North Carolina 7
1994: Florida State 31, North Carolina 18
1995: Florida State 28, North Carolina 12
1996: Florida State 13, North Carolina 0
1997: Florida State 20, North Carolina 3
1998: Florida State 39, North Carolina 13
1999: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10
2000: Florida State 63, North Carolina 14
2001: North Carolina 41, Florida State 9
2002: Florida State 40, North Carolina 14
2003: Florida State 37, North Carolina 0
2004: Florida State 38, North Carolina 16
2009: Florida State 30, North Carolina 27
2010: North Carolina 37, Florida State 35
2016: North Carolina 37, Florida State 35