In preparation for the upcoming season, we will break down the schedule. The first four games of the season can be found here, now let's look at the mid-season games.
Saturday, October 5th at Virginia Tech
The proverbial meat of the schedule starts with a trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech. This is expected to be a tough game and in all likelihood one UNC will not be expected to win. The Tar Heels won the 2012 tilt between these two teams 48-34 on the strength of a record setting performance from Gio Bernard who went for 262 yards on the ground. It stands to reason UNC won't be getting that kind of effort from A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, etc. In fact this game will probably end up like most of the UNC games in 2013. Passing will rule the day, you just hope you get enough of a rushing offense to balance the scales. Speaking of passing, Bryn Renner was a rather pedestrian 17-30 for 194 yards against the Hokies in 2012 with Quinshad Davis his leading receiver with 5 catches for 65 yards. It should be noted that by early October, Renner didn't have the same command of the offense he showed as the season wound down.
As always the defense will be a bigger concern with Logan Thomas returning for the Hokies. Thomas torched UNC for 354 yards passing and two touchdowns versus one interception and one sack. However, the Heels did an outstanding job of limiting the Hokies' on the ground. Virginia Tech had 40 yards rushing on 25 attempts. It is safe to assume the Hokies will have an improved running game this time around.
Despite the game being in Blacksburg and the expectation being UNC probably won't prevail, this is a winnable game for the Tar Heels and a nice one to snag given what follows in 12 days.
Thursday, October 17th vs Miami
For the second time in school history, UNC will host a ESPN Thursday Night Game. The Coastal Division favorite Miami Hurricanes will come to town in what would be a huge opportunity both in terms of the standings and showcasing Larry Fedora's program. Miami's place atop the ACC preseason polls stems from the due of QB Stephen Morris and RB Duke Johnson. Johnson took the league by storm nearly going for 1000 yards in his freshman campaign and will undoubtedly surpass that as a sophomore. Morris threw for over 3000 yards and had 21 TDs vs 7 INTs. With a very good offensive line in front of both of them, the Hurricane offense is going to give UNC's still uncertain defense fits. The saving grace for UNC is Miami's defense probably won't be great meaning this game could be a shootout. Of course that is what everyone thought last season's game between these two would be and it ended up a 18-14 Tar Heel win.
The game versus Miami represents the midpoint of the season. UNC will also be three games into the ACC schedule and will have face the three of the top four picks in the Coastal Division with the Tar Heels being the fourth team. In other words, the schedule is very tough early and introduces the possibility of UNC being 2-4 and 0-3 in ACC play with six games left. At that point, a division title would appear unlikely and UNC would have almost no room for error going forward.
Saturday, October 26th vs Boston College
If it so happens UNC is facing a 2-4 hole, hosting Boston College represents a solid chance to get the train back on the tracks. The Eagles will be in their first year under Steve Addazio whose reputation of intensity puts him on the same plane with Larry Fedora. This game might be more entertaining if one watches the coaches rather than the action on the field.
Boston College is in a full-blown rebuilding mode and that is not just the roster. The turnover from Tom O'Brien to Jeff Jagodzinski to Frank Spaziani to Steve Addazio has left the program in shambles. While O'Brien may have never gotten NC State anywhere, his Boston College teams were consistent. Jagodzinski to the program to a pair of ACC title games but after he was fired for interviewing with the New York Jets, it has been a free fall in Chestnut Hill. Spaziani drove the plane into the ground and now it is Addazio who must pick up the pieces. The process will be slow and chances are very little progress will be made this season on the field.
In other words, UNC should win handily.
Saturday, November 2nd at NC State
If we assume the worst case scenario that UNC loses all it's possible "losable" games and wins the ones it absolutely should then this could be a 3-4 Tar Heel team trying to make it back to .500 right before the stretch run. Not that the record matters since this is NC State and a opportunity to get a second straight win over the Wolfpack. This will be the first UNC-NC State affair for Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren. There is little doubt Doeren would like to get off on the right foot with his fan base by beating the hated Tar Heels. That is the kind of win that gives an NC State a little extra cushion to work with as he makes an effort to get the program rolling.
For UNC it would be nice to put the five game losing streak to NC State well behind the program even if it is only two straight wins in the series. Otherwise last season's win feels like a fluke. In an ideal world, assuming NC State is experiencing a down season of sorts, this would be a perfect time for Larry Fedora to say to Blake Anderson, "Run it up Blake! Leave no doubt."
No clothes at this point: 8-0. This isn't happening. No way this happens. I mean it could happen but I don't think it will.
Pleasant Surprise: 6-2, 4-1 ACC. 3-1 in the first four(loss to South Carolina) and 3-1 in the second four(loss at VT or Miami) would put UNC at 4-1 in ACC play and possibly in the driver's seat for the division title.
Good Pace: 5-3, 3-2 ACC. Nine regular season wins is still possible and winning the division is too but it would probably take some help given the two losses will probably come versus two of Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Probable: 4-4, 2-3 ACC. This would be the dreaded 2-4 start. The schedule doesn't set up well for UNC in that the Tar Heels could lose four of the first six versus good teams. The record will look disappointing even though it won't be based on the quality of competition and the fact those four losses would probably be fairly close. Wins versus BC and NCSU would right the ship and rivalry wins always help.
It's is basketball season yet?: 3-5 or worse. 1-4 ACC. What happens if UNC's only ACC win is Boston College and the only three wins are BC, Middle Tennessee and ECU or heaven forbid they also lose to ECU? The dreaded "is it basketball season" narrative rears its ugly head.