North Carolina vs South Carolina, 6:00, ESPN
Year Four of the Larry Fedora Era.
The N&O's Andrew Carter postulated that this might be the most important game of Fedora's UNC tenure. To some extent Carter has a point. It might not necessarily be the most important but certainly could prove a turning point. It has been 18 years since the Tar Heels won nine or more games in a season, A win to open the season over South Carolina not only gets UNC heading in the right direction to finally breakthrough but would also signal this team is capable and competitive.
Much of the focus heading into this game has been on the defense. Larry Fedora brought Gene Chizik in to fix one of the worst defenses in UNC history. Chizik had his work cut out for him needing to not only change the scheme but also teach defense at the fundamental level. Natural development, scheme change and new(better?) coaching should yield an improved defensive unit. How much remains to be seen but starting the season versus South Carolina ensures we will have an early grasp of whether the defense is beginning to trend in the right direction. That trend will be dictated by the numbers but also to some extent predicated on whether the defense "looks" better. Are guys taking care of their assignments? Can they tackle? Can they cover receivers? As dumb as it sounds to ask those questions, UNC's struggle from a year ago were that fundamental. At the very least this game should serve as a window into whether the basics have been grasped.
There is far less uncertainty on the offensive side with UNC returning all the primary offensive weapon. There will be no shortage of options for Marquise Williams to pass and hand off so much so, Williams might find his own rushing numbers will suffer as tailbacks Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan carry more of the load. At any rate, with so much personnel returning on offense and an experience offensive line, this should be the year UNC's offense clicks the way Fedora has dreamed of since arriving. The question is one of consistency. Because of UNC's pace, three and outs make life more difficult for the defense. Putting together longer drives on a consistent basis and putting points up will give the defense some breathing room.
Season openers are tough to gauge, especially if the opposition is a weaker FBS or FCS school. Blowing an highly inferior team out yields very little in relevant information on a team. However this game is not that and while one shouldn't extrapolate a whole season off one game, this contest should serve as a barometer for the Tar Heels, especially in examining the defense.
The importance of the game in the context of the Fedora era can be debated but one thing is certain. A win would do wonders for the program and afford the Tar Heels some early season momentum. Beating South Carolina would position the Tar Heels for a 4-0 non-conference start. From there achieving nine wins becomes a much easier task, especially seeing the schedule this season actually bears out to be a little easier than a year ago.
The Tar Heels can set a tone with a win over South Carolina and at the same time finally get the program turned in the right direction.
UNC 38 SCAR 30