The stick by which North Carolina will measure its program this season is covered in Tiger stripes.
UNC opens its football season against Louisiana State University in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 4. at 8 p.m.
Quarterback T.J. Yates said that having this kind of game for the season opener has kept an air of enthusiasm throughout the program since the players learned about it.
"That is our landmark," Yates said. "This isn't a normal game to start off your season. A lot of guys on the team have never played such a great opponent for our first game. That was an extremely good motivator going into off-season workouts, as well as going into fall camp.
"This isn't a warm-up game. We have to be competing with each other in training camp as if we're going into the season at the top of our game."
Yates said this game served to keep the players pointed in the proper direction during the off-season, a time when it is easy to let one's mind drift.
"We have a goal this off-season to get a win," Yates said. "Sometimes you go into the off-season looking at the whole season. We're only focused on one thing, and that is the first game. We have the countdown to kickoff all over our football team."
Coach Butch Davis, who is entering his fourth season at UNC, said at this point of his program he felt the team needed to be challenged in a game such as this to get a true gauge of where the Tar Heels are in comparison to nationally recognized programs.
"When we were first approached," Davis said, "it was one of those things that you think, 'What could this potentially do for our football program?' The things I know about football players, one they like playing with good players; they like playing against other good players.
"It's an opportunity to gain some momentum, kind of galvanize your program, maybe get a little bit of a spotlight. It's a great measuring stick. LSU has won two national championships in the last 10 years."
Davis said that he has learned through the years a football program must compete against the best if it has any aspirations of becoming the best.
"When we were in Dallas and we were trying to win Super Bowls, we went 1-15," Davis said. "When you're trying to dig out of that 1-15 season, you say 'What do we need to do as an organization?' The Washington Redskins had won three Super Bowls and were in our division. The [New York] Giants had won two. Focusing on who is winning national championships, who is winning Super Bowls gives you a chance.
"We took a similar approach when we were at Miami," Davis said. "We had an opportunity to play Ohio State. [Coach] John Cooper and Ohio State had finished second in the nation like three out of four years. Here was a Big 10 program with a tremendous reputation and with a lot of high-profile athletes. We felt there was probably no downside to that."
LSU is a program known for having superior athletes at all positions, so Carolina should learn quickly if how it stands come Sept. 4.
"They have a great football team," Davis said. "They have a tremendous amount of talent. That program has been on a roll for 10, 11 years. Coming out of year three [at UNC], this will give us a chance to measure and see if we are making some strides."