Halfway through the ACC football season, Carolina is certainly atop the leaderboard for most disappointing season thus far. The Tar Heels are 1-4 and have looked bad on defense, sputtered on offense, played undisciplined football that has taken points off the board and had players suspended, and have added injury to insult with a number of key banged-up players. Before the season began, this Thursday's ESPN game against Miami looked like it could have Coastal Division implications, but now UNC is reduced to the role of spoiler.
And yet, in spite of it all, there is a glimmer of hope for Carolina. While a division crown is unlikely, there are reasons to think UNC can turn it around in the back half of the season and salvage a respectable season under the circumstances. With that said, here are three reasons to be optimistic about the rest of October and November:
1. The front half of the schedule was very strong. We knew going in that UNC's schedule was front-loaded with very good teams. The combined record of UNC's first six opponents is 26-11, and that includes losses by ECU, Georgia Tech, and Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Three of UNC's losses are on the road, and Carolina didn't perform badly in those road tests. The outlier has been ECU, because that was at home and was the one game where the Heels stunk it up. But if UNC could have either knocked off the Pirates or Hokies, or held on to the halftime lead at Georgia Tech to be 2-3 instead of 1-4, the mood would have been much different.
The good news on this front is that the combined record of the final six teams UNC will play is a more manageable 19-16, although of those last six teams, only Virginia has a losing record. Then again, the best record among the remaining teams belongs to...wait for it...Duke, at 4-2. This will hardly be the murderer's row the first part of the season was.
2. It can't get any worse, right? The season so far has been a perfect storm of misfortune for Carolina, so much so that the next good break they get will be their first. Again, the defense has been in shambles, the ground game in particular has really struggled, and key players, especially on the offensive side of the ball, have missed games. Add to that the mistakes that have literally cost the Tar Heels points and it is easy to see why they are 1-4. On the other hand, they did have the lead at half against Georgia Tech and played Virginia Tech tough on the road with a backup quarterback.
This weekend's bye comes at a good time to get coached up and healed up. Hopefully Bryn Renner will be back for Miami, and a number of other Tar Heels that have been banged up, such as Romar Morris and Sean Tapley, will be back to 100 percent. Then UNC gets the two extra days off the Thursday game to prepare for Boston College. Carolina showed resiliency under Larry Fedora and his staff last season, and there is certainly the likelihood that the same thing can happen this season.
3. The #goacc factor. After playing above its collective head for the first five weeks of the season, the ACC came crashing back to Earth on Saturday. Undefeated and #3-ranked Clemson had to hold on against Boston College and the rest of the league looked pretty bad across the board. In other words, anything can happen and there are no imposing teams down the stretch.
So even if UNC goes down against Miami to fall to 1-5, there is certainly no reason to think the Heels can't, or won't, go 5-1 or even 6-0 to finish the year and earn bowl eligibility. Then again, having a 1-4 team beat one of the league's three unbeaten teams would be very #goacc. On the other hand, given how the season has gone so far, having Carolina go 2-4 on the back half sadly wouldn't be very surprising, either.
Still there is no reason to get out onto the ledge quite yet, regardless of what happens on Thursday. But UNC is running out of chances to accentuate the positive.