There have been conflicting predictions of the Tar Heels 2017 football season so far. UNC found themselves receiving votes in the preseason Coaches Poll, while the USA Today projections have them at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in conference. This inconsistency in the polls obviously speaks to the questions of how Fedora and company replace all of the talent lost. If the incoming transfers, along with the returning players, can step up the Heels can be successful, but to win the Coastal Division they will have to follow these steps.
Take care of the easy ones
Expectations are low for UVA and Georgia Tech this season. UVA is at Kenan this year and that will be as close to a “gimme” as UNC has on the schedule. Georgia Tech is in Atlanta, but for the Heels to compete in their division it will be another game they have to win. The Heels have won the last three vs GT but they have been relatively close (with the exclusion of 48-20 last season). These two are the must wins on the schedule for 2017.
Win at least two of the “Upper Echelon” games
The games that fall under this category are Louisville, at Virginia Tech, Miami, and at Pitt (due more to being on the road for Thursday primetime). A loss to Louisville wouldn’t hurt as much as the others since even though you add a loss to the conference record, they obviously aren’t in the same division. So the loss counts, but no one in the division gets the win. Also, every team that will be competing for the Coastal crown will have a tough crossover game (Miami has FSU and VT has Clemson) so each team may have one loss already on the schedule. All of that being said, beating Louisville Week 2 would be a huge win for getting back to the national scene.
Playing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is going to be a tough one (albeit probably not in a hurricane). The Hokies are ranked 22nd in the Coaches Poll and predicted to finish 2nd in the ACC Coastal by USA Today, not to mention how tough it is to come out of Blacksburg with a win. The good news is VT will be replacing their QB, top three rushers, and 3 of their top 4 receivers along with a lot of defensive talent. They seem to be in a similar boat to the Heels, and its hard to tell where they may be when the Heels roll in.
Miami seems to be the odds on favorite for the Coastal title and 18th in the coaches poll but they are without a QB, their top TE, WR, and the majority of their defensive backfield. UNC has gotten Miami the last two years, so hopefully the 3rd year is also a charm.
Pittsburgh is not projected to be one of the best teams in the ACC, but the Thursday night ESPN game does add a star next to it on the schedule. UNC has handled them in the last four meetings. If Fedora can win two of these games they should be in great shape to head back to Charlotte. Although these are the big games, winning the emotional ones will be the key.
Take care of the rivals
Losing to your rival stinks. Losing to both of them in the same year is much worse. The Heels HAVE to flip the script this year. 6-2 has been good enough to win the Coastal every year since 2012. That means beating both Duke and NC State is a necessity (especially for all UNC fans’ mental state). The Duke game is much earlier than usual, being week 4 vs toward the end of the year. It’s at Kenan and expectations for Duke are low once again, so this is a must win. The NC State game in Raleigh at the end of the year may very well be for the chance to compete for the ACC title. Hopefully Fedora will reverse the 2016 results and be rewarded with a trip to Charlotte.