Coaches Tom O'Brien of N.C. State and David Cutcliffe of Duke go back a long way.
On Jan. 1, 1991, Virginia met Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Virginia is struggling so badly that it seems incredible that the Cavaliers ever played in the Sugar Bowl, but it happened that day in New Orleans, with Tennessee winning, 23-22.
George Welsh was coaching Virginia, and his friend Johnny Majors was coaching Tennessee. Before the bowl game, they and their staffs spent some time together discussing strategies and sharing ideas.
Two young assistants got to know each other during that trip. O'Brien was coaching guards and centers for Virginia, and Cutcliffe was in charge of the quarterbacks for Tennessee.
When Cutcliffe was asked recently about some of O'Brien's philosophies on building an offensive line, he praised O'Brien's aptitude in that area. On Thursday night, O'Brien said he still didn't understand why Mississippi fired Cutcliffe after his sixth season there in 2004.
"I don't know how you get rid of a guy who's the SEC coach of the year one year. . .and then he's gone (after the next season)," O'Brien said. "He's sound. He does a great job, and he's got Duke headed in the right direction.
As former assistants on the offensive side of the ball, O'Brien and Cutcliffe operate their schemes quite differently. Cutcliffe goes no huddle and often calls plays after the team gets to the line of scrimmage.
O'Brien is more conventional and uses the tight end position a lot more. It's clear that the coaches respect each other, but O'Brien has more on the line this week.
Rival North Carolina's collapse over the last two weeks has spared O'Brien some fan angst over the Wolfpack's third straight slow start. N.C. State fans are so happy to see North Carolina struggling that it's eased their frustration over seeing the Wolfpack lose two of the first three games they've played against FBS opponents.
Losing at home to Duke - even an improved Duke team with a highly respected coach - would considerably increase fan dissatisfaction with O'Brien. If Cutcliffe can engineer a win Saturday, it will be a hard jab to the gut of the tough Marine veteran who's coaching the Wolfpack.