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Turning the Season Around Will Be Tougher This Time

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

We all know the story by now. UNC started the 2013 campaign with a 1-5 mark then flipped that record on the back half of the schedule to finish 6-6. After a dominant bowl win, UNC was set up as one of those "momentum teams" heading into 2014. Then history repeated itself, sort of. UNC is now 2-4 through six games, just one win better than that 1-5 start in 2013. The similarity in the situation raises the possibility that the Heels could embark on yet another turnaround starting at the midway point.

Unfortunately, that seems less likely. First of all, the 1-5 start last season was marked by competitive games that UNC simply couldn't get over the hump. The 55-31 loss to ECU ended up being an outlier of sorts. In the other four losses the Tar Heels didn't surrender more than 28 points and lost to Miami and Georgia Tech by a total of 12 points. This season hasn't seen the same type of competitiveness. UNC has given up 50 or more points three times and over 500 yards of total offense four times. The defense is historically bad with no sign the problems leading to the weekly 50 point watch can be resolved.

The other problem facing the Tar Heels is the schedule. Here is what UNC faced in the final six games of last season with the teams' final records, offensive and defensive ranks.

Teams Record ACC Record Total Offense Rank Total Defense Rank
Boston College 7-6 4-4 39th 92nd
NC State 3-9 0-8 100th 91st
Virginia 2-10 0-8 119th 75th
Pitt 7-6 3-5 72nd 64th
Old Dominion 8-4 N/A N/A N/A
Duke 10-4 6-2 48th 77th

The schedule last season down the stretch was extremely favorable. UNC played one FBS transition team in Old Dominion and scored 80 points on the Monarchs. Four of the six games were at home of which UNC won three. Two of the teams UNC face didn't win an ACC game last season and were ranked 100th or worse in offensive yards per play. The best defense the Tar Heels faced was Pittsburgh and two Ryan Switzer punt returns for touchdowns negated the Panthers' impact on the UNC offense. UNC's one loss was to a team that won 10 games and the Coastal Division.

As bad as the 1-5 record looked through the first half of 2013, the eye test said UNC was a competitive team that could turn it around when the schedule eased up. It did that and the Heels managed a 6-6 mark which afford UNC a trip to the Belk Bowl. The question now is can UNC repeat the feat? The same numbers through half the season indicate it will be much tougher.

Teams Record ACC Record Total Offense Rank Total Defense Rank
Georgia Tech 5-1 2-1 27th 109th
Virginia 4-2 2-0 97th 25th
Miami 4-3 1-2 8th 8th
Pitt 4-3 2-1 64th 12th
Duke 5-1 1-1 65th 42nd
NC State 4-3 0-3 50th 74th

Whereas last season UNC faced an FCS and five ACC teams who were well below water in the league, the numbers for the Tar Heels' remaining opponents are much better. Offensively the Heels face just one below average offense in Virginia but that game is on the road and the Cavaliers are 25th in yards per play allowed. Miami and Pitt both have solid defenses which the Panthers put on display Thursday night in beating Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech has a comparable defense to UNC but the Yellow Jacket offense is capable of mitigating that by controlling the clock. Duke and NC State are rivalry games which would be tough on that premise alone much less with UNC's defense trying to stop them.

All of this is to say UNC's outlook isn't great barring a miraculous turnaround on the defensive side of the ball . The schedule last season and UNC's caliber of play in going 1-5 made the turnaround a feasible notion. The way the Tar Heels have defended so far this season plus an beefier schedule on the back half makes getting to 6-6 a much tougher chore. It's not impossible but UNC is likely going to need every break to get there.