In preparation for the upcoming season, we will break down the schedule starting with the first four games.
Thursday, August 29th at South Carolina
All the talk concerning this game has been about the Gamecocks' all-world defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and whether anyone is actually afraid of him. It was a silly question but unfortunately that is the state of the media looking for soundbites from dumb questions rather than doing actual analysis. The question is not whether anyone on the Tar Heel roster is afraid of Clowney but how will UNC players and coaches adjust to minimize the damage he might do. That is all that matter because Clowney is an impact player. He can make big plays on crucial downs. He also requires attention in the planning and execution sense. Football is a numbers game and a game that is about forcing the opposing team to do something they may not want to do. Clowney's presence means there are adjustments to be made and improper execution(like a missed blocked) results in your running back on the ground without the ball and his helmet.
This will be a good early test for UNC. Playing on the road against a top ten SEC team means no one expects the Tar Heels to win. That should at least let UNC play a little looser not to mention first games are haphazard. That works both ways but could be to the advantage of the underdog.That being said, UNC's defense versus a Steve Spurrier offense? Sigh.
Saturday, September 7th vs Middle Tennessee St.
It should be noted MTSU beat Georgia Tech 49-28 last season. That's right, the Blue Raiders held Georgia Tech to 40 fewer points than UNC and did so on the road. It is unlikely that Middle Tennessee State team shows up in Chapel Hill for UNC's home opener. With the Heels possibly coming off a loss and facing a road game against the forementioned Yellow Jackets, this will be a crucial game. It shouldn't be close though until someone convinces me that the defense won't spontaneously combust, I am going to be a little guarded.
Saturday, September 21st at Georgia Tech
At this point, any time I see Georgia Tech on the schedule I am tempted to assume the fetal position under my desk. While I don't have the stat in front of me, it feels like I have only seen Georgia Tech punt to North Carolina a total of five times since Paul Johnson took over. It is probably more than that but there are also the inexplicable turnovers which occur after said punts. It is the understatement of understatements to say North Carolina hasn't figured out the triple option.
Now, the Tar Heels do get a bye week prior to facing Georgia Tech which is historically a plus. Teams with an extra week often fare better versus the triple option than those who get the normal single week prep. Except that hasn't been the case for UNC which is only 1-2 versus Georgia Tech with the extra week. The lone win came in 2008 which was Paul Johnson's first season in Atlanta.
The game versus Georgia Tech is bordering on the definition of insanity. Every year we hope, pray and do various things to convince ourselves it will be different this time only to see it actually get worse. At this stage, I am taking a "believe it when I see it" approach. UNC has to snag a win at some point and seeing the Jackets are a Coastal Division foe, a win in Atlanta here would be huge.
Saturday, September 28th vs East Carolina
The renewal of the North Carolina General Assembly mandated Kobiyashi-Maru game.
ECU is plenty dangerous with the Pirates a favorite to win the Eastern division of Conference USA. Still this is a game UNC should win and it could end up being a game the Tar Heels must win. Should UNC lose to South Carolina then continue the long running ineptitude versus the triple-option in Atlanta, a loss here could push the Heels to 1-3 assuming MTSU was taken care off in the second game of the season. That is not somewhere UNC wants to go and I doubt they will.
With Ruffin McNeil's teams, the offense tends to do well and the defense not so well(sort of like UNC last season.) McNeil coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech where the emphasis was all on the offense with the defense being a tad suspect. This didn't bear out a year ago when the Heels won 27-6 in Chapel Hill but it wouldn't surprise me to see a higher scoring affair this time out.
No Pants: 4-0 with UNC having upset South Carolina in Columbia and finally taking down Georgia Tech. Undefeated season! BCS bowl! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Pleasant Surprise: 3-1. UNC loses to South Carolina as expected but then reels off three straight and gets off to a 1-0 start in ACC play for only the second time this century. Slightly different version of that is beating the Gamecocks but still losing the Georgia Tech. If I am being honest, the latter one is probably a better deal.
Probable: 2-2. The expected loss to South Carolina occurs and until I see UNC actually stop the triple-option, I am going to assume a loss to the Jackets.
Panic!: 1-3 or 0-4: Losses to either MTSU or ECU are unacceptable, especially the latter since no one wants to deal with Pirate fans with puffed out chests. And if ECU somehow beats UNC and NCSU? God helps us.