Following the loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship I wrote this:
One consistent aspect of fan behavior is never being satisfied with the status quo. This season has been a three month exercise in Tar Heel partisans constantly elevating the expectation bar. And every time that bar is raised the level of potential disappointment is that much bigger should the Tar Heels fail to reach it. After eleven straight wins, an 8-0 ACC record and Coastal Division crown, there was a real sense the Tar Heels could pull the upset versus the Tigers and win UNC's first ACC title in 35 years.
It didn't happen and with that comes a profound sense of disappointment. That is understandable but it shouldn't overshadow what UNC has done and how far the program has come from a year ago much less five or ten. This is a program that has been struggled to get over the hump in far too many seasons. Golden opportunities were missed, an NCAA scandal led to coaching turnover and penalties. A second scandal has kept a dark cloud over Chapel Hill impacting recruiting. Larry Fedora's ability to get traction with the program has been hamstrung by a litany troubles.
Yet, as of this writing UNC is 11-2 on the season and finishes as the second best team in the ACC. It's been a tough but rewarding journey from the desert of mediocrity to national relevance not seen since 1997. While no one should ever be happy with losing a championship, it is important not to lose sight of everything this team has accomplished in finally making Tar Heel football more than something people do to pass time until basketball season starts.
What was true 24 days ago is still true today, even with another difficult loss on the ledger. In sports, success breeds bigger challenges and a greater risk of losing. Good teams get to play against good or better teams and with that comes the possibility of being exposed and finding out that you are good but not quite good enough. That's the price tag that comes with competing for a championship and playing the in college football bowl system. So while it will be tough to watch rival teams play softer opponents and end or potentially end their seasons on a high note, the bad taste at the end of season should never negate a really positive body of work.
UNC won 11 games, a school record 11 in a row, beat Duke and NC State, rolled over Miami on Senior Day, went 8-0 in the ACC for the first time in school history, won the state "title" and the Coastal Division. Marquise Williams ended his career as one of the most prolific offensive players in UNC history, Quinshad Davis leaves Chapel Hill with a fistful of Tar Heel receiving records. Players like Shakeel Rashad, Jeff Schoettmer and Landon Turner got an incredible ride to close out their careers, a ride that has been the most fun UNC football fans have had in almost 20 years.
The future is also very bright. Given what UNC returns next season, this shouldn't be a flash in the pan kind of season though the schedule will be tougher in 2016. Mitch Trubisky has shown he is ready to take the reins of an offense that is fully stocked with weapons from Elijah Hoods 1400+ yards this season to Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins and Bug Howard in the receiving corps. If Trubisky is everything he's touted to be UNC's offense might actually be better on the offensive side of the ball. The defense still needs improvement but the staff is in place to make that happen, especially with some young talent on the defensive line.
The final two losses shouldn't cloud what UNC has done this season. The 11-1 regular season was a clear signal that the program is headed in the right direction, emerging quite nicely from the dumpster fire of the scandal years. The final two losses are also an indication of how far UNC still needs to go. Clemson and Baylor are operating at a higher level as programs and the postseason has shown UNC still has work to do to reach that level.
Clemson and Baylor exposed UNC a little bit but getting better as a program means taking on those challenges and finding out where you are and how high the climb is to get there. UNC has a stable staff in place and in theory the scandal years are almost done. If there was ever a time the Tar Heels can make that climb, now might be the time.