It goes without saying that the University of North Carolina’s football program hit their floor last year with all of the speed and impact of a runaway freight train. Following a year of more injuries than one should reasonably have to count for one sports team, Larry Fedora took misstep after misstep with his 2018 roster, which ultimately led to a 2-9 record (1-7 in the ACC) and his own demise as a head coach.
Since then, Hall of Fame head coach Mack Brown has returned and has made enough changes within the program in such a short amount of time that it has made it painfully obvious just how bad things were. Recruiting has gone much, much better, a strong sense of inclusion is felt across fans and media (it’s pretty awesome to not feel shut out by coaches and have access to some of what they’re thinking). While it was happening with or without Mack Brown, the new football facilities are also finally complete, which should not only help current players, but it should help with recruiting new players. There’s been a lot going on, but there’s one unanswered question that’s perhaps the biggest question for the rest of 2019: what will the results be on the field? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
While everything has gone smoothly for Brown and his staff to this point, we are just a few weeks away from seeing what product is put onto the football field. Unfortunately, the Heels have one of the most difficult schedules they could possibly have waiting for them, and so what could’ve easily been a .500+ season any other year puts the team in jeopardy of remaining stagnant in the wins/losses column. The truth is there are so many new elements to this team that we just may not see the results right away. So then, what are the realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios for this team? Let’s take a look at both, and what has to be done to obtain the realistic results that Tar Heel fans would like to witness.
As mentioned before, UNC’s schedule this season couldn’t possibly be any worse. The season starts off with a game against the always pesky South Carolina Gamecocks, which is followed by games against Miami, Wake Forest, App State, and Clemson. Did I mention the game against Wake was in Winston-Salem? We’ll go ahead and make this brutally clear to kick things off: this team has a very real chance of starting the season 0-5. No, it’s not because this team will be that bad, but rather it’s because of the caliber of teams on the front end. There’s no team in NCAA football that should have to take on so many good teams in such a ridiculous order, and it’s almost a little too comical to think what would’ve happened had Larry Fedora taken the field one more year as a head coach and tried surviving this gauntlet.
From there, things look marginally better, but there’s nothing promised as far as the win column is concerned. Playing Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on the road will both be difficult tasks, but getting Duke on Homecoming under Mack Brown might be more lucrative than the situation would’ve been a year ago. From there, Virginia is a popular pick to win the Coastal, Pitt will be an away game, Mercer comes into town, and finally, the showdown against the NC State, which shouldn’t be without bulletin board material after what happened last season in the overtime loss.
When initially looking at these 12 games, it’s very easy to go into a place of immediate pessimism. For me personally, I have spent a lot of time thinking that this year might be a repeat record of last year, with the only ACC win coming against either Duke or Pitt (since Pitt has had some weird luck playing the Heels). However, the worst-case scenario here might not be catastrophic, but it still won’t be the super promising record that Heels fans deserve. The Heels are unlikely to get shutout in ACC Coastal play, and I expect them to at least pick up a couple of wins against any combination of Georgia Tech, Duke, and Pitt. The game against Mercer could be more difficult than it should be, but ultimately I’d be surprised if the Heels don’t find a way to win a game like that by November. Finally, South Carolina is a bit of a wild card, particularly because as Chad Floyd pointed out in his opponent preview, the Gamecocks won’t have much film to go off of in their preparation to deal with the new schemes on both sides of the ball.
So what is the worst-case scenario? The Heels will go 3-9, and Mack Brown will turn his focus to what could be a big 2020 season.
Should everything go as well as it possibly could go, the Heels’ ceiling is one that is slightly mysterious. We don’t know what to expect at the quarterback position just yet, there are depth issues on the defensive side of the ball, and to be extremely honest, it’s just hard to execute brand new schemes on both offense and defense perfectly. With that said, in addition to the winnable games mentioned above, there are a couple other games that caught my attention.
The game against Wake Forest is one that is very possible for Carolina to win. Following the games against South Carolina and Miami, the Heels could find some solid ground to stand on against the Deacons. Another team that comes to mind is Virginia Tech, who only won by three points last year in Chapel Hill to what we will likely consider by the end of the year as the inferior team compared to this year’s. Finally, my hot take for this particular scenario is that Mack Brown will have his team ready to deal with the Wolfpack in the regular season finale. As we witnessed last year, logic flies out of the window often when these two teams meet up, and this year should be no exception.
With that said, the absolute best-case scenario for Mack Brown’s Heels this year would likely be a 7-5 record. As mentioned in my worst-case scenario, South Carolina is a bit of a wild card, but if the Heels should win that’d be just enough to get them a win over .500. It goes without saying that any fan would lay out the cardboard and breakdance should this record be attained, but to be perfectly clear: getting there will not be easy. The theme for this season is expect the worst but pray for the best, as there will likely be more than enough highs, lows, and “what just happened” moments to go around. It should be an exciting season, for better or for worse, and the first game couldn’t get here soon enough.
Let’s get this work.