The 2007 football season was absolutely bananas. To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of it all, Tar Heel Blog and SB Nation College as a whole look back on a season that made no dang sense.
God, the decade of football after Mack Brown.
Brown went 2-20 in his first two years at UNC, and managed to go 67-26-1 from that point forward in the 1990s. He left UNC prior to the Heels’ second consecutive Gator Bowl win, a 42-3 win over Virginia Tech, which closed back-to-back 11-1 seasons.
The following era was the dark ages. Brown’s defensive coordinator, Carl Torbush, took over and ruined everything, managing a 17-18 record in three years with Brown’s recruits. His first class included all-everything QB Ronald Curry and a jumbo athlete named Julius Peppers. After Torbush, absurdly under-qualified Rams assistant John Bunting took the reins at Carolina for six years. It started innocently enough— a 41-9 win over Florida State which signaled the beginning of the end for Bobby Bowden, and a Peach Bowl win over Auburn led to an 8-5 2001 campaign.
Then...the bottom fell out. Bunting went 19-40 over the next five years, which included a miracle win over #4 Miami in 2004 which only prolonged the inevitable (and cost the Heels a shot at Steve Spurrier, who was shopping for homes near Chapel Hill that very week). After a listless start to the 2006 season, Bunting was fired and Butch Davis was hired as his replacement. Today’s equivalent would be Virginia hiring Pete Carroll (I mean, Davis took the Browns to the playoffs, after all). Carolina football, as the olds who grew up in the 90’s knew it, was back.
Davis immediately made waves on the recruiting trail, stealing five star DT Marvin Austin, local receiver Greg Little, and numerous other talents on Signing Day 2007. He also inherited a gift in Bunting’s last full class— standouts such as Hakeem Nicks, Kendric Burney, Brandon Tate, Bruce Carter, and Deunta Williams peppered the Carolina roster.
Still, 2007 was regarded as hopeless before the season began. Davis moved 2006 quarterback Joe Dailey to receiver, shifted Williams to safety, and Carter to linebacker. The youth movement was in full force.
The Heels finished 4-8 in 2007, but were 24 points away from 10-2 despite an aggressive youth movement. The close losses were as follows: 34-31 at East Carolina, 22-20 vs. Virginia, 17-10 at #14 Virginia Tech, 21-15 against #12 South Carolina, 31-27 at N.C. State, and 27-25 at Georgia Tech. Heels fans were rightfully excited. 15 of the 22 primary starters were freshmen or sophomores. Only South Florida and Wake Forest (because, lol it was 2007) were able to make games with North Carolina noncompetitive.
Due to those circumstances, the biggest game of UNC’s 2007 season was the visit from Miami— the ‘Butch Davis faces Miami for the first time’ angle was sufficient to generate hype despite a 1-4 start to the season. Randy Shannon’s Canes were 4-1 with only a loss to Oklahoma, and the “MIAMI BACK” narrative, V 1.0, was in full force.
The Heels jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter. After the Carolina defense forced a Miami punt, the Canes defense was (famously, to Heels fans in attendance) dancing at midfield during a TV timeout. Many times in Kenan Stadium, boos have whipped the crowd into a frenzy— but never quite like this.
On the first play back from the timeout, the ‘Misdirection Maestro’, Offensive Coordinator John Shoop, called for a reverse to Brandon Tate. Miami’s defense, perhaps riding high from the dance party, watched Tate do his own dancing— 54 yards into the end zone for a 27-0 lead.
Carolina held on for a 33-27 win to highlight an otherwise underwhelming 4-8 record, but for the first time since John Bunting’s first year at the helm, the Heels had something that had been missing in the 21st century— hope (as well as a trend of styling on Miami, on occasion).