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The departure of popular defenseman Jay Harrison was a wake-up call for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, but it’s merely the first of many trades as new general manager Ron Francis reshapes the last-place team.

As Duke, North Carolina and NC State each play big, neutral-site nonconference games this weekend, the Wolfpack and Blue Devils continue to impress, while the early returns for the Tar Heels are less definitive.

Where the Carolina Hurricanes sit in the standings, there’s no point in pretending anymore. It’s time to move on. That’s going to make for a long four months, but when there’s a chance to get a player like Connor McDavid, you can’t mess around.

While Florida State was quite rightly given the chance to defend its national title, some bizarre last-second maneuvering by the College Football Playoff committee caught the ACC off guard and ended up dropping N.C. State down the bowl order.

Tuesday’s loss at Purdue weighed heavily on the Wolfpack, which was thrust straight into ACC play with an early opener against Wake Forest. NC State shook off a slow start on its way to a 78-65 win and first place in the ACC -- for now.

A day after losing his best friend to pancreatic cancer, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was back coaching the Tar Heels in what has become the toughest season of his career.

With the exception of a 2010 blizzard, the Hurricanes hadn’t had a sub-10,000 crowd in a decade. They have had two in the past three weeks, including Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

It was the proudest moment in Dave Doeren’s two seasons as coach at NC State, a thoroughly comprehensive 35-7 win over North Carolina on Saturday.

Both North Carolina and N.C. State need to win Saturday’s game – but for different reasons. NC State is looking for its first win over a Power 5 team this season. UNC is trying to knock off another rival after beating Duke last week. Both teams need a win to improve their bowl position.

If the Tar Heels can beat NC State at Kenan Stadium on Saturday – and North Carolina has won two straight in the series – they’ll know that a single winnable game kept them from making their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

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Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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