Autumn has always felt a little bit like an ending, to me. Maybe it’s all of those years heading back to school at the end of another too-quick summer, leaving summer camp friends behind and returning to classrooms and homework. Maybe it’s the days growing shorter and shorter, with each earlier sunset insisting quietly that perhaps it’s better to stay inside and read than to go out and start anything this late. Perhaps the trees have taught me to think of fall in this manner, as they change colors, brilliant for a week or two, then shedding leaves and falling dormant in preparation for the winter. All I know is that the slight chill of the night air, though not unpleasant, has always had a literal air of finality to it, at least in my mind.
If this is the season of endings, then, it bodes well for Mack Brown’s team. In the next two games, the Tar Heels have a great opportunity to end a couple of streaks, the kind you’d prefer not to own. The most immediate, of course, is snapping a three-game skid against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. In the last three seasons, the Hokies have won by 31, 52, and 3, with the bookends of those losses being in Chapel Hill. Tomorrow, the Tar Heels will make the trip into the mountains of Virginia to Blacksburg. Fall tends to makes its presence known a few weeks earlier up in the mountains than it does here in Chapel Hill, and perhaps the end of this streak will come as swiftly.
Another streak, an uglier one, is the nine straight losses the Heels have suffered at the hands of other FBS opponents from North Carolina. Carolina, at that point led by Larry Fedora, last beat an in-state FBS team on November 28th, 2015—a 45-34 win over the Wolfpack in Carter-Finley. Coincidentally, this game also came the week after a win over Virginia Tech, the last time the Heels faced the Hokies directly before an in-state rival. This situation should sound familiar; the Heels will face Virginia Tech tomorrow, then play host next weekend to hated neighbors and favored rivals when the Blue Devils come to town.
The first order of business is to break this skid against Virginia Tech tomorrow. A win going into and coming out of the bye week would continue to build momentum for this Tar Heels team that’s still remembering how to win, and we’re already halfway there. A struggling Virginia Tech team ought to be just the ticket for the Heels to continue to build on the win over Georgia Tech that Carolina carried into the bye week. It’s also not tough to imagine the Hokies looking past the Heels in some small way; the team from Blacksburg has a trip to South Bend looming on the horizon, to face the currently-eighth-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Then, the week after Notre Dame, Virginia Tech has a visit planned from the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. These are both teams that have looked spookier than North Carolina has to this point in the season, and head coach Justin Fuente has to have a lot on his mind as he tries to right the ship for the Hokies.
If the Heels are able to take care of business on the next two Saturdays, they will be entering this season of endings in style, snapping two straight streaks in two straight weeks. I can’t think of a better way to kick off this cooler weather—after all, ‘tis the season.