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UNC Football: The Long Dark

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

If you blinked, you may have missed it. You’d be forgiven, of course—the college football season is a beautiful, strange, transient thing. Like the twinkling lights and candles that lend their warm glow to homes across the country for around a month each year, the college football season comes and is gone before we’re quite ready to say goodbye.

If you blinked, you may have missed the ascent of a true freshman quarterback with a live arm, and the subsequent shattering of records. You may also have missed a wide receiver duo which accounted for well over a mile’s worth of passing yardage on the season. These brilliant moments—the acrobatic catches, the clutch plays, and the deep touchdowns—happened quickly, and thus would be easy to miss. Also easy to miss was the reinvention of a struggling quarterback as a star middle linebacker, excelling even as he adjusted to his new role.

The football season, like the holiday season, is hurtling to an end. The Tar Heels’ season has already ended on a high note, with a 55-13 blowout over the Owls of Temple University. The seniors, among them easily recognizable names such as Charlie Heck and Jason Strowbridge, have donned the blue and white for the final time. The 2019 version of the UNC football team has played its final snap, finishing a stark turnaround from the past two seasons with a flourish in the Military Bowl.

There are still a few games left, of course. A national champion has yet to be crowned, and a few other bowls remain to be settled before we can lay this season to rest. Beyond these, however, loom the cold and bleak badlands that are college football’s offseason, darker than the living room the day after the Christmas tree is taken down and the twinkling lights put away for 11 more months. The coming cold days, coupled with the long, dark nights that even the southern part of heaven experiences, can be a comedown from the warmth and cheer of the past holiday season.

This season flew by, which is why it can be helpful to reflect on the things that the Tar Heels accomplished this season, as well as look toward the future. The return of once-and-future coach Mack Brown introduced energy back into a program that had been languishing for two seasons prior, and a youth movement carried the Heels to a winning record and the first bowl appearance since 2016. The aforementioned true freshman quarterback, Sam Howell, will be a freshman no more, and should continue to improve over the offseason. Coach Brown looks to have the program back on track, and a big bowl win to wrap up the season will make the coming offseason easier to bear for those of us who get the itch for college football sometime in April.

As we prepare to flip the calendar over to the pleasingly-symmetrical 2020, we close the book on one Tar Heel season and prepare to switch gears to the next. For now, we can distract ourselves from the lack of North Carolina football with our hoping and praying that the men’s basketball team can find some semblance of offense in the absence of Cole Anthony.

This season was fun, though, and we ought to do it again sometime. I’ll see y’all in about eight months in Kenan Stadium.