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Is it fair to judge the 2016 UNC football season on 2015’s success?

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UNC will be on the radar in 2016. Is that a good thing?

ACC Championship - Clemson v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The 2015 football season was a total success for UNC. They won 11 games and went to the ACC Championship Game. They were, in theory, in the College Football Playoff discussion in December. It’s hard not to be optimistic about the long term future of the program.

UNC will probably start the 2016 season ranked somewhere in the top 25. The media picked them to win the Coastal Division again at ACC Media Days. Marquise Williams guaranteed that they would make the College Football Playoff. UNC gives the appearance of a program on the rise.

All of those things could end up being more of a curse than a blessing, at least for 2016.

The 2015 season will probably help with how the program is viewed, especially in the long-term, and hopefully in recruiting. For 2016, trying to live up to last year’s team is probably an unrealistic target.

In 2016, North Carolina has to replace players in key positions. They’ll have a new starting quarterback. They have two new linebackers on what was already a shaky defense.

It’s also okay to admit the schedule broke right for UNC in 2015. They drew Wake Forest from the Atlantic Division, and except for Pitt, they played their toughest games at home. That’s not the case in 2016. They play Florida State from the Atlantic, have to play Pitt right before that game, and travel to what will probably be an improved Miami team.

It’s not unrealistic that UNC could finish 8-4 or possibly even worse. They could play well all season and still have that happen. The schedule is tougher, and the Coastal Division seems, on paper, to be improved. Their level of play on the field could remain the same as last year, and still see a drop in win total.

Most hardcore North Carolina football fans probably know that. The problem is what will happen to the perception of the program in the eyes of everyone else. UNC has been an “underachieving, sleeping giant” for years now. People have been ready for the program to break out for a while. The Tar Heels were up to #21 in the AP poll in 2014 after beating Liberty, and San Diego State by four. Over-hype isn’t new.

A drop to 8-4, or worse, would probably cause the 2015 season to look like a mirage, and for the perception to be that last season’s results to have been over-hyped yet again. Anyone who watched last year’s team knows they were good. However, the college football watching public wasn’t tuned into the Duke, or Miami, or State games. They will be tuned in for at least a couple games in 2016.

The 2015 season is one that UNC fans should be proud of. That was a really good team that played the best football at the school in almost two decades.

However, North Carolina comes into 2016 with a greater focus on the program than has existed in the past. Depending on what happens this season, UNC could end the season labeled as “disappointments”. If they do, there’s a chance it won’t be totally their fault.