In the last three weeks, UNC has gone through the toughest part of its schedule, playing three straight one-loss teams, two with a metric to of history, and all with a guy under center who started the season as the scout team QB. And the Heels have found a way to win all three, coming down to the wire in two of them and never folding under pressure.
So why am I more worried about the Virginia Cavaliers than I was for any of those games? Virginia, who lost by 35 to the same UConn team that Carolina crushed. Who barely escaped Richmond, and was a four touchdown loser to Duke. Duke football.
Some of it, of course, is the Cavaliers' turn around. They've won two straight, against semi-respectable Maryland and ECU, with new quarterback Marc Verica and a running back Cedric Peerman who has two straight 100-yard rushing games. (As Matt Hinton pointed out, those 283 yards are more than UVa's rushing total through its first four games.) But mostly it's the stadium.
Scott Stadium is not an imposing place. Presumably, it could even be pleasant, when not filled with drunken Virginia fans. And yet, UNC struggles there. More accurately, they break apart on the rocks of futility there. The Heels haven't won in Charlottesville since 1981 - not just the Dick Crum Era, but the Dick Crum Isn't Loathed Era. The Lawrence Taylor Era. Twenty-seven years.
Even that doesn't convey how cruel this stretch has been. I have buddies who need to be in Charlottesville this Saturday, just to bury the pain. I was there in 1996, when Carolina was up 17-3 with the ball on the UVa 10 with under ten minutes to play. One Chris Keldorf interception later, and the tide had turned and the Hoos were n their way to a 20-17 win. My friend is more hurt by 2002, when a 21-0 halftime lead somehow turned into 37-21 loss. Every Carolina fan of a certain age has their own tragedy at Scott Stadium, and it is past time they were put to rest.
The good news is, the new Virginia of the last two weeks is still a young, inexperienced team. Verica has seven interceptions in four games, the Carolina secondary should eat him alive. With Peerman's improvement, they won't be able to hang back in zone like they did with Rutgers and Notre Dame, but the defense that clamped down on Miami should work fine. Virginia's defense is also suspect, despite the near blanking of Maryland. Throw multiple receiving options at them - and even without Brandon Tate UNC has the personnel at WR - and they at best stumble and at worst turn into a feast, as with Southern Cal. This is the Heels' best chance in a decade to put Scott Stadium behind them, and this team has shown itself capable of standing up in some real high pressure situations.
So why am I still nervous?