Last season, North Carolina football had its best season in nearly 20 years. They came within a score of winning the ACC and possibly (although probably not) making the College Football Playoff.
However, they did get a bit of a break with the schedule. That’s not to say they weren’t good. Anyone who watched them play last season knows they were good. They just got the perfect storm of being really good with a manageable schedule.
This season’s schedule isn’t as easy. Aside from the season-opening game against Georgia, there’s a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State. Even if UNC returned literally everyone from last year, it would still be difficult to replicate last season’s win total just because of the schedule. So, what win-loss record would be good enough to feel like the team has built upon last season?
The game at Florida State is probably a loss. FSU comes into this season as a pretty close second to Clemson in terms of ACC favorites. It would be nice to win that game, but it’s not realistic to expect it.
Other than that, there aren’t really any guaranteed losses, just a bunch of games that should be tough.
Georgia will have the pure talent edge over UNC. However, they will playing their first game under a new coach. New coaches will be a bit of a plus for other teams on UNC’s schedule, but the same can’t be exactly guaranteed for Georgia. Kirby Smart is a first-time head coach. He might turn out to be an excellent head coach, we just don’t know that for sure. A win over the Bulldogs is unlikely, but not impossible.
Four other FBS teams on Carolina’s schedule have new coaches, and all of them seem like improvements. UNC should still win the Illinois and Virginia games, but on paper they do seem a bit tougher.
Last season’s Virginia Tech game went to overtime. And while that game will be in Chapel Hill this season, Tech did seemingly make one of the best hires of the offseason in Justin Fuente.
This season UNC will go on the road to play Miami, who hired Mark Richt. Considering that game is on the road this season, UNC probably won’t replicate the dominance of last season’s win.
The two FCS games on the schedule should be wins no matter what. That leaves four games. Two of them are rivalry games. UNC dominated both Duke and NC State last season, and probably should win them again, but it’s not a guarantee. Last season’s Pitt game was close and the Panthers look to be pretty good again. Georgia Tech probably won’t be as bad a last season, and UNC had to mount a crazy comeback to beat them last year.
So what would be an acceptable win total out of that schedule? SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s numbers give UNC a projected win total of 7.5. While 7-5/8-4 is a definite possibility, it would feel like somewhat of a step back to the people that watched a lot of last year’s team. It would also feel like UNC left at least one attainable win on the table.
If UNC ends up going 9-3, I think that would be a record most Carolina fans could feel really good about. Anything better would an overwhelming success. 8-4 would be okay, depending on who those four are. Anything less would feel disappointing.
All that being said, after the last 15 years of bowl trips not being a yearly definite, talk of 7-5 being a disappointment is a nice change.