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What is North Carolina football “success” in 2019?

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Qualifying a “good” year versus a “dissappointment” for the upcoming season.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, The Debate questioned the overall value to the North Carolina basketball program from players such as Coby White and Justin Jackson. The comments proved that once again, readers of this blog are excellent at expressing their high quality opinions. Other options emerged, such as Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, Kendall Marshall, and even Kennedy “I will die on this hill” Meeks. There does not appear to be any right or wrong answer, which is what we strive for at The Debate.

Having debated myself for the last two weeks, publicly (at least going 2 and 2 I hope), it is time for a bit of a format change. Joining The Debate this week is world renowned podcast host and Tar Heel Blog Staff Writer, Chad Floyd (@Chad_Floyd). Perhaps this topic will go live on the Tar Heel Football Blog, Don’t Punt to Gio.

Now, on with the show.

The Debate for the week of May 6: What will it take for the 2019 Tar Heel Football season to be regarded as a success?

Point: Bowl Eligibility - Chad Floyd

Under Mack Brown, Carolina football is riding a wave of overwhelmingly positive PR for the first time in over a decade. Consider:

  • A fanbase re-energized by nostalgia for the results Brown achieved at Texas, and more importantly at Carolina in the 1990s;
  • A recruiting class currently ranked in the top-10 nationally in the 247Sports composite;
  • High school coaches, recruits, and current players talking about the complete change of culture and vibe in Chapel Hill.

In order to capitalize on that momentum and continue on a positive trajectory into the next decade, the Tar Heels need to qualify for a bowl in 2019.

At a very base level, the Tar Heels have a lot of young talent, including three freshman quarterbacks and a metric ton of 2019 signees who are newer to football—15 extra practices gives them a huge leg up as the staff searches for replacements for multi-year starters including Patrice Rene, Myles Dorn, Jason Strowbridge, and Aaron Crawford, among others.

Secondly, the Heels were not that far off from being a bowl-eligible team in 2017 or 2018 if you believe in the underlying numbers. Carolina was a complete tire-fire in non-repeatable metrics such as red zone scoring, points off turnovers, and close game losses. In addition to a Battle of Winterfell level of attrition due to injuries, the past two seasons were a perfect storm of Murphy’s Law causing a team to play below its true talent. A baseline for this team should be at least 6 or 7 wins.

Finally, the benefits of a couple of local wins against the States and Dukes of the world matter a whole lot to the fanbase, but those benefits pale in comparison to getting a three-hour infomercial on national television during high school players’ winter breaks. Mack Brown has cache with his former colleagues at ESPN, and recruits on a national scale. To miss an opportunity to clear a very reachable benchmark (65% of FBS will play in a bowl game in 2019-2020) would be an opportunity to show real, tangible progress on the field.

The difference between 3-9 and 5-7 isn’t a big one. The difference between 5-7 and 6-6 is massive, and could dictate the future of the program.

Counterpoint: Key wins and close games.

I am glad Chad mentioned the Battle of Winterfell, because he is clearly living in the dark. Success has to be measured in a way that is reasonably achievable and while Mack Brown could be the savior of the program, it will not be this year. This is not to say that a bowl game is impossible, just that a rise from a 2 win debacle to a 6 win season is an unlikely leap.

A great recruiting class will help the team to be more competitive, but it is difficult to rely on freshmen at the collegiate football level. Those types of incoming recruits feel more like program building than program resurrection. There are still thin spots on the roster that future quality classes will need to ultimately fill.

So let’s start with the most important games to the fan base. These are Duke and North Carolina State. Both of those games were very close last year, with a 7 point loss to Duke and a narrow overtime defeat to the Wolfpack. Success this year is winning at least one, if not both of those games. Despite the Battle for the Bell against the Blue Devils, the State game is more important from a recruiting standpoint and is critical to a successful year.

The second element for a satisfying season is to stay close in the prime time games. A 37 point blowout to Miami last year on a nationally televised Thursday night is a morale killer. Two years ago it was a 59-7 disaster at Lane Stadium on a Saturday afternoon. The Virginia Tech game in 2016 was a late afternoon 34-3 home loss. These are opportunities for national exposure and the Heels must stay competitive to build the program and succeed for the year.

Time for you to decide! Will it take a bowl game for a successful football season? Do the Heels need to win that game? Is an in-state victory and a competitive year a more realistic goal?

As always, readers are encouraged to join in through the comments and point out what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we never thought of. Also, please feel free to provide suggestions for future topics so we can cover what interests readers and what information is needed to ensure victory when debating slow-witted friends who don’t read the articles!