How will Duke, UNC football handle success? Mack Brown, Mike Elko weigh in on fast starts

There are 39 undefeated college football teams at the FBS level and seven of them are in the ACC, including Duke and North Carolina.

Together, the 17th-ranked Tar Heels (3-0, 0-0 ACC) and 18th-ranked Blue Devils (3-0, 1-0) have won their first three games in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 90 years.

As of Wednesday afternoon, tickets start at $143 for the Nov. 11 meeting between the teams at Kenan Stadium. According to TicketSmarter, it’s the most expensive ticket remaining on the schedule for both squads.

It’s also a game that could determine which programs play for the 2023 ACC Championship on Dec. 2 in Charlotte.

But before the Devils and Heels think about December, they have to build on early success. Here’s what UNC coach Mack Brown and Duke coach Mike Elko had to say about staying on track.

UNC football coach Mack Brown says Tar Heels ‘can’t be comfortable’

When UNC heads to Pittsburgh this weekend, the Tar Heels will try to do something they haven’t done in 26 years.

“We have not been 4-0 since 1997, so this is a huge week for us,” Brown said.

“We also haven’t responded very well to positives. We haven’t handled success very well. That’s part of the growing of your program. We’ve got to get used to winning again and we’ve got to think we’re going to win and plan on winning, instead of feeling too good about ourselves.”

NATE THE GREAT: With Tez Walker sidelined, UNC football’s Nate McCollum channels NFL wide receiver

UNC'S AERIAL ATTACK: UNC football’s Drake Maye, Tar Heels use passing game to beat Minnesota

DEVILS AN ACC CONTENDER?: Why Duke football is a genuine ACC contender after beating Clemson

After a 9-1 start in 2022, UNC ended its season with four losses in a row. In 1997, UNC maintained its early momentum to finish 11-1 and Brown accepted the Texas job.

“You’re best when you’re uncomfortable,” Brown said. “If you get comfortable in this business, you better look out. … Just look at the scores around the country.”

Brown wants his team to “play to a standard” and not fall into the up-and-down trap that hindered the Heels last season.

“You get better or worse every week. You’re not gonna stay the same, period,” Brown said. “Are we gonna get better this week or are we gonna get worse?”

Duke football coach Mike Elko wants Blue Devils to be better in the ‘middle’

The Blue Devils aim to win four in a row to start a season for the first time since doing it in back-to-back years in 2017-18.

In 2017, Duke followed a four-game winning streak with six losses in a row. After four victories to start 2018, the Blue Devils lost three of the next four games.

Second-year coach Mike Elko wasn’t here for those experiences, but he saw a similar trend in his debut season. After its 3-0 start in 2022, Duke lost three of the next four and all three losses were one-possession games.

“I don't feel like we're learning how to handle success,” Elko said this week ahead of Duke’s trip to UConn.

“I feel like our challenge – and this is what we laid out going back in January – is what we call the middle. Game four to game eight, that's the middle of your season. Last year, we didn't handle that part of the season really well.”

As for the message moving forward, Elko is hopeful this team has made necessary improvements to avoid last year's pitfalls.

“We know what we're here for. We know what we're trying to accomplish,” he said.

“There's a lot of work and a lot of improvement that happens from the beginning of the season to the middle of the season to the end of the season. That's kind of been our focus and I'm just happy with how we're handling that part of the game."

Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at or @RoddBaxley on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Can Duke, UNC football keep rising? Mike Elko, Mack Brown weigh in