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UNC football opens the season against another first year head coach

Larry Fedora and the North Carolina Tar Heels will face another new head coach when California comes to Chapel Hill.

Georgia v North Carolina Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In just six days, the California Golden Bears will travel cross-country to take on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, in the first ever meeting between the two schools. The 2017 UNC football season will start out very similar to the previous year for Coach Larry Fedora and his team as they open up the season facing a team with a brand new head coach.

Much like the Georgia Bulldogs and Kirby Smart in 2016, the Golden Bears will be showcasing their new head football coach, Justin Wilcox, when they open up the 2017 season on September 2nd.

For the first time in his career, Wilcox will be leading a team out of the tunnel as the head coach. He has been a defensive coordinator since 2006 with a number of teams such as Boise State, Tennessee, and most recently Wisconsin. He takes over for Sunny Dykes, who was fired this past offseason after his team finished the 2016 season with a 5-7 record.

The start of a season, the first game especially, tends to be a challenge for head coaches in preparing for their opponents, as many teams have new personnel either on the sideline or out on the field. Also, the only real game film that you have on a team is from the previous year, which you can only glean so much from due to the many changes that teams go through from season to season.

Similar to the Georgia game in 2016, Fedora and his staff will have their work cut out for them in preparing for the Golden Bears due to Wilcox being a new head coach. With Wilcox being a defensive coordinator prior to becoming the head coach at California, you would figure that the focus of the team will be centered around having a strong defense. However, that may take some time until he can get the types of recruits that fit his style of play and philosophy.

The UNC offense will have an idea as to the schemes and/or blitzes the defense may have in place by watching game footage from the Bears’ new defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter. DeRuyter comes to California from Fresno State where he was the head coach for five seasons, and before that he was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M for two seasons.

Along with a new head coach and defensive coordinator, the Golden Bears will have a new offensive coordinator that the Tar Heels can gather information on Cal’s potential style of play and philosophy. Beau Baldwin was the head coach for nine seasons (and the offensive coordinator for four seasons prior) at Eastern Washington before taking the coordinator job at California.

California will be the only team on UNC’s schedule this season with a new head coach, which is unlike the previous season where the Tar Heels faced seven different teams with new head coaches.

In 2016, along with Georgia, the Tar Heels faced Illinois (Lovie Smith), James Madison (Mike Houston), Virginia Tech (Justin Fuente), Miami (Mark Richt), Virginia (Bronco Mendenhall), and the Citadel (Brent Thompson), who all had new head coaches. Fedora and UNC finished the 2016 season with a record of 5-2 against those teams. One of the two losses came to Georgia in their come-from-behind 33-24 victory over UNC, and the other was to Virginia Tech in the “hurricane game”.

The Tar Heels will look to continue their recent success against teams with new head coaches and erase the trend of struggling against Power 5 teams in their opening weekend games by defeating California in Kenan Stadium next Saturday.