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UNC Football: Off-season recap and season outlook

In 48 hours, UNC football returns. Here we recap our offseason coverage and explain what you should expect this season.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

In 48 hours, the Heels will take the football field and start their 2019 campaign. Plenty of words have been written, spoken, and read in anticipation of Mack’s (second) first season. Since Brown took the job, North Carolina has received a shot of excitement and a boost of optimism. Ticket sales have exceeded expectations, recruiting is reaching levels not experienced in over a decade, and positive publicity has been rampant. Simply put, football is fun again. (For those with fuzzy memories, remember we were all in on the hire when it was announced).

We aren’t going to bore you with best/worst case scenarios, burning questions, or happy sunshiny optimism. Instead, I’ll ask you to catch up with our position previews that have been produced over the last month. Links are as follows:

Offense

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Offensive Line
Wide Receivers

Defense

Defensive Line
Linebackers
Secondary

Special Teams/Coaching

Special Teams
Coaching

And, if you want a little more information and analysis on other aspects, check out these quick pieces.

Now that you’re caught up and those shameless plugs are out of the way, we can all move on to the more important topic at hand. Games are not won on paper or on the fundraising circuit. No matter how excited the fanbase is, there are still at least twelve kickoffs to determine the success or failure of the Heels’ season. Acknowledging those unfortunate facts, what can reasonably be expected from Carolina football over the next three months?

The running backs are really good. Sam Howell is now the starting quarterback. Cade Fortin decided to transfer. Former QB Chazz Surratt is now a middle linebacker. The offensive line and linebackers are a concern. The defensive line is super talented, but not deep. The kicking game is relying on a freshman and a sophomore. The wide receivers are athletic but unproven. There is a new offensive system. There is a new defensive scheme. The team has only won five games in two years.

Oh, and their first five games are against South Carolina (neutral), Miami (home), Wake Forest (away), Clemson (home), and Appalachian State (home). That’s before the calendar even flips to October. All five of those teams went to a bowl last year. Cue the nervous laughter.

If you’re one that’s predicting a 1-4 start to the season, well, you have valid reasons for such beliefs.

On the other hand, Miami has a first year head coach and allowed 10 sacks against Florida last week. South Carolina doesn’t have any film on this specific UNC team’s new schemes, and Will Muschamp may be coaching for his job this season. Wake Forest and App State are in-state rivals, and Mack historically dominates in-state opponents. Appalachian State also has a new head coach. Only Wake Forest is a true road game of the 5. Clemson….is Clemson.

If you’re one that’s optimistic about a 4-1 start, well, you have valid reasons for your beliefs.

The backend of the schedule is deceptively difficult as well. Four of the final seven games are on the road (the two Techs, Pittsburgh, and NC State). Duke, Mercer, and Virginia will visit Chapel Hill. Arguments can be made for UNC to run the table in October and November. Similar arguments can be made that UNC will stumble, with only Mercer as a likely win.

The truth is, this team could win anywhere from four to eight games and nobody outside of national pundits (who often only make predictions off previous records) would be surprised. Maybe your kicked-dog syndrome has you downtrodden and fearing the worst. An overall record of 5-18 over two seasons will try the soul of any fan. (Except maybe devotees to Kansas and Rutgers). Nobody can blame you if pessimism and gloom cloud your expectations.

Or maybe you’re like me. Before last season, I thought 2019 would have been the appropriate referendum on Fedora because of all the talent that is still on the roster. Yeah, 2-9 is 2-9, but it wasn’t completely for lack of talent or effort. Five of those nine losses were by one possession (VT, State, and Syracuse were especially infuriating). Two of those five went to overtime. That was all without a Power 5 talent at quarterback for most of the year. North Carolina didn’t require a full blown rebuild – just a few tweaks on the field and a major culture change off it.

To help give optimism (or provide fuel for pessimism), the Coastal Division is always a crapshoot. In addition to UNC, both Miami and Georgia Tech have new coaches. Justin Fuentes may need to make a bowl to save his job at Virginia Tech. Duke lost the #6 overall pick in the NFL Draft in QB Daniel Jones. Pittsburgh, the defending division champions, was one of UNC’s two victories last season. There’s a reason that Virginia is a popular pick to sneak away with this year’s Coastal title. Let that sink in. Virginia.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of fandom and expectations (and I fall squarely on expecting 7-5), this season is bound to be an adventure. Peaks. Valleys. An unexpected win and an infuriating loss will happen. It’s year one of Mack 2.0. Some patience is required before the hype off the field matches the product on the field.

It will happen. It always happens with Mack. This is what he does. This year, just enjoy the show.

And if UNC wins seven games in the process, hopefully four of them are against App, Wake, Duke, and State.

Go Heels.