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UNC Football: What a time to be alive

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2019 has been a wild ride, enjoy it while it lasts.

Duke v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s statistically impossible to be having a more ordinary season that sitting at .500 eight games into 2019, but that’s exactly where UNC finds themselves. Anyone who’s been paying attention, though, knows that this season has been anything but ordinary. The Tar Heels finished October tied for first in the Coastal division with a very real chance to play at a probable rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Most of the players on the roster are going to be playing meaningful football in November for the first time in their collegiate careers. The players who haven’t experienced real November football, as well as the fans who forgot what it was like, are all in for a real treat. The next four games are going to say a lot about where the program is going.

The unfortunate reality is that after those four games, and at least one maybe two games more, the season is going to be over. Soon the leaves are going to start falling off the trees, Cole Anthony is going to be tearing it up at the Dean Dome, and Santa Claus will be coming to town. With everything that’s about to start up and football season coming to an end, August seems like a lifetime ago. It’s easy to forget just how remarkable this season has been, and how much we’re going to miss watching them.

For nearly eight months all our energy seemed to be spent on debating who would win the title of “Carolina” (not shockingly, the good guys did). Eight games in we’ve all gotten used to watching Sam Howell pull magic out of his hat every game. It’s easy to forget how big he played in the win over South Carolina. The true freshman, who was playing against overmatched high school kids a year ago, out-dueled a fifth-year senior and engineered a double-digit comeback win in his first college game. Howell completely shut down any arguments that he shouldn’t have been the starter by the end of his first game while some teams are still trying to figure out who the best quarterback on their roster is.

Then came the Hurricanes, a team that embarrassed Carolina a year ago. The Tar Heels needed to convert a fourth and seventeen just to keep their hopes of winning the game alive, and that wasn’t even the craziest play of that drive! That award goes to Dazz Newsome’s go-ahead touchdown catch on a perfectly run corner route, and arguably an even better throw from Howell. Carolina knocked off the preseason favorites for the Coastal in what was the loudest game at Kenan in years.

Carolina’s 2-0 start got somewhat derailed by maybe the most emotional game all season against Wake Forest. Appalachian State was maybe the best team of the four that Carolina played to start off the season, and the Tar Heels headed into their matchup with the defending national champions with a 2-2 record.

If Wake Forest was the most emotional game, it’s hard to argue that Clemson wasn’t the most exciting game. No one outside of the Tar Heel locker room gave Carolina any chance of beating the Tigers. Then the game kicked off, and the blowout that everyone was expecting never came. Word on social media spread that Carolina was hanging with the Tigers, broadcasters around the country began checking into the game with more frequency, and what began as hope slowly turned into belief that the sold out crowd at Kenan was witnessing something special.

The Tar Heels ultimately fell one point and one yard short of pulling off the upset over Clemson. The one point loss, though, did more to inspire national confidence in the team from Chapel Hill than anything else all season. The rest of the country found out what everyone at UNC already knew, that Mack was indeed back.

Carolina finally gave our blood pressure a break with just their second win in Atlanta since 1997. The Tar Heels left what could have been a thirty-something point win on the table, but still left Georgia Tech with a double digit win.

UNC didn’t give our emotions a break for long though, as they traveled to Blacksburg for what was certainly the weirdest game of the season. The Tar Heels played in the first game ever to feature the NCAA’s new overtime rule where the game essentially becomes a soccer-style penalty shoot out, but with two point conversions. Six overtimes later, Carolina came up two points short, and hopes of winning the Coastal seemed to be nothing more than just a hope.

Football is a funny sport though, and one botched pop-pass later Carolina is tied for first with the team they’ll play this Saturday, Virginia. Carolina beat their rival Duke in incredible fashion, and I mean literally incredible fashion. The Tar Heels navy blue jerseys were ranked the best uniforms in the country for week nine.

Carolina’s on field performance was pretty spectacular as well. Linebacker Dominique Ross posted the best pass rush grade by a Tar Heel Pro Football Focus had ever graded, with an elite grade of 93.8. Chazz Surratt sealed the win over Duke with an interception on the goal line from a Tim Tebow-esque pop-pass from Duke’s running back. Surratt credited defensive coordinator Jay Bateman with alerting the defense to be ready for a pop-pass. Bateman had a hunch that was coming because, get this, in 2016 Duke beat Army off of a pop-pass in a similar situation. Bateman remembered a play that Duke ran three seasons ago and told his players to watch out for it.

I’m hard pressed to think of any team that’s had a more unique, emotional season than the one the Tar Heels are currently in the middle of. There’s a lot of football to be played still, and more importantly a lot to still be playing for. No matter what happens down the stretch though, make sure you take time to appreciate just how special this football season has been. Once it’s over, who knows how long we’ll have to wait for another season like this one.