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UNC Football: Opening weekend is a tale of two tapes

Opening the season against a Power Five opponent has not been kind to the Tar Heels.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of next week, the California Golden Bears will travel from Berkeley to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels in both teams’ season opener. If history proves to be cyclical, this could spell bad news for Carolina football (even though my colleague, Chad Floyd, doesn’t think we will have a thing to worry about).

Over the past 20 seasons, North Carolina is 9-11 in opening games. That record, although not great, isn’t the worst of it. If we were to strip away those games not played against Power Five opponents the record drops dramatically to a horrid 1-8. If you count Rutgers in the Big East (during the height of the BCS in 2006) the record drops to 1-9. If you add in ALL Division I opponents, the record is 2-11. The lone Power Five win during that period is the furthest back; a 1997 win over Indiana and the only other Division I win came against mid-major Tulsa in 2000. UNC is 7-0 when facing FCS schools on opening weekend.

Breaking it down by conference doesn’t help, either. Using teams current conferences, the records stand at 0-4 vs the SEC, 0-3 vs the ACC, 0-1 vs the Big 12, and 1-0 vs the Big 10. This year will be the first opening game against a PAC 12 school during that span.

Below is a game-by-game statistical breakdown:

Untitled

Opponent Opp Points UNC Points Opp Rush UNC Rush Opp Pass UNC Pass Opp TO UNC TO
Opponent Opp Points UNC Points Opp Rush UNC Rush Opp Pass UNC Pass Opp TO UNC TO
2016 - UGA 33 24 289 159 185 186 1 0
2015 - SC 17 13 254 208 140 232 0 3
2013 - SC 27 10 228 99 178 194 0 1
2010 - LSU 30 24 162 24 151 412 5 3
2005 - GT 27 21 122 61 353 280 0 3
2003 - FSU 37 0 236 72 317 223 2 3
2001 - OU 41 27 108 64 178 226 1 5
1999 - UVA 20 17 153 145 165 147 3 2
1997 - IND 6 23 110 138 62 200 2 3
Totals 238 159 1662 970 1729 2100 14 21
Averages 26 18 185 108 192 233 2 3

Statistically, the Tar Heels have not been out-performed by that much. On average, they’ve only lost by eight points and out-rushed by only 77 yards. They’ve firmly controlled the passing game, leading opponents by an average of 41 yards. Also, the Tar Heels are nearly even in turnovers with three to their opponents two. There are some ugly games in there (2016 vs UGA; 2013 vs SC; 2003 vs FSU; 2001 vs OU) that give reason for pause, but half of the losses came down to one score (2015 vs SC; 2010 vs LSU; 2005 vs GT; 1999 vs UVA).

However, none of this matters. What matters is the scoreboard when the clock hits zero and North Carolina has seemed to struggle when thrust onto the Power Five national stage on opening weekend. The Tar Heels can begin to right-the-ship against Power Five teams on opening weekend next weekend against Cal. Then, they will have the ability to extend that when the Tar Heels travel to California in 2018 and play South Carolina in Charlotte in 2019. There’s a long way to go to pull this abysmal record up from the ashes, but the opportunities are there.