The North Carolina Tar Heels could not have had a worse start to the season. There were definitely bright spots in the opener against Cal and this past week against Louisville, but ultimately 0-2 is 0-2.
Considering that this shaky start has all but eliminated UNC from the top tier bowl conversation, the focus becomes simply getting to a bowl game. In most years under Fedora this is a given, but it remains to be seen how well this squad will fare in the ACC Coastal. Let’s take a look, week by week, at the Tar Heels’ potential path to a bowl game.
Week 3 at Old Dominion:
Carolina will travel to Norfolk, Virginia this week to take on ODU. This one should be relatively easy for the Tar Heels, but road games are always tricky. Still, I believe the Heels will get off to a fast start and grab their first victory of the season.
Week 4 vs Duke:
Duke has looked very good in their first two games this season. Most recently, they dismantled Northwestern 41-17 in a game that was expected to be close at the very least. Their balanced offensive attack (293 ypg passing, 238 ypg rushing) has been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Hopefully UNC will have established a clear starter at quarterback by this time. I’m not sure it will be enough to keep up with the Blue Devils, though.
Week 5 at Georgia Tech:
Georgia Tech’s triple option has given the Tar Heel fits in the past, but more recently the Heels have been able to shut it down. In their opener, the Yellow Jackets dominated the Tennessee Volunteers in the box score. They out-gained the Vols by nearly 300 yards and held the ball for almost three quarters of the game...and still lost. They showed how costly turnovers can be, especially for their offense, and I believe Fedora and his staff will expose their weaknesses.
Week 6 vs Notre Dame:
The Fighting Irish fell just one point short of the Georgia Bulldogs this past week. This is just the latest in a string of disappointments for the Irish, who finished 4-8 last season. Brian Kelly will desperately need to win this game to start working his way off the hot seat. Notre Dame will likely be favored in this one, but I think the Heels protect their home field.
Week 7 vs Virginia:
The Cavaliers are 1-1 after winning their opener against William and Mary and dropping their second game to Indiana. They are still a work-in-progress under Bronco Mendenhall, who recorded an abysmal 2-10 record in his first season in Charlottesville. Since taking over as head coach, Larry Fedora has never lost to UVA and I expect that trend to continue.
Week 8 at Virginia Tech:
The Hokies have looked really good thus far. They impressed under the lights in their opener against West Virginia and were able to shut out Delaware the following week. Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson has displayed his inexperience at times but bears tremendous upside. The combination of Justin Fuente’s high-powered offense and Bud Foster’s stagnant defense makes the Hokies a dark horse playoff contender. As much as I would love to see the Heels avenge the dreadful 34-3 loss that occurred during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew last season, I don’t see it happening in Blacksburg.
Week 9 vs Miami:
Because of Hurricane Irma, Miami has only played one game so far this season, a 41-13 dissolving of Bethune-Cookman. Their week 2 matchup with Arkansas State was cancelled and their week 3 matchup with Florida State has already been postponed until October, so it’s difficult to get a great read on their team. Regardless, I think the Canes win a barn burner in Chapel Hill.
Week 10: Bye
Week 11 at Pittsburgh:
Pitt actually recorded 30 more total yards than Penn State in a 33-14 loss this past week. They won by a touchdown the week prior against Youngstown State. The Tar Heels’ past three meetings with the Panthers have each been decided by seven points or less, with UNC winning all three. I believe the Heels will eek out another tight victory in this Thursday night showdown.
Week 12 vs Western Carolina:
The Tar Heels will be overwhelming favorites in this one. They should have few problems taking care of the Catamounts as they head into the last game of the season.
Week 13 at North Carolina State:
This one should be interesting. According to these predictions, UNC will have already reached six wins by the time they take on the Wolfpack, but it’s entirely possible that the Tar Heels’ postseason aspirations will be riding on this game. To predict that NC State will make the CFB Playoff is probably a stretch, but they do have a dangerous team this season. A rivalry game like this can always go either way, so I have to take the Tar Heels to finish the season strong in Raleigh.
I am in no way guaranteeing that these predictions will be 100% accurate, but one thing is for certain: the season is not lost. There’s no need to go into panic mode just yet. It will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels respond to these early losses.