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UNC Football: Road games

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Look homeward, angel.

North Carolina v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

There’s been plenty of measured, intelligent discourse on this blog regarding last weekend’s loss to the Cavaliers of the University of Virginia. This will not be that. If you’re here for smart folks making cogent points about the North Carolina football team, allow me to recommend this piece, in which Evan breaks down what may be that special something against the team from Durham on Saturday. Or maybe this one is more your speed, in which Michael breaks down precisely what it was that made one of the Cavaliers’ linebackers so hard to handle. There’s really great, informative writing being done by very insightful people elsewhere across this blog.

Like I said, this is not that. In this house, correlation and causation are inseparable, and we overreact to weird patterns in a very weird football season. We make half-joking assertions, expecting to shrug it off if we’re wrong and posture as sages if we’re proven right. We cheer for the Tar Heels, of course, but we also know that college sports are the most wonderful kind of stupid, and college football can be more stupid than most.

With all of that caveat behind us, allow me to introduce you to the possum theory.

My father was a triple option quarterback in high school, what had to have been three or four hundred years ago now. By all (his own) accounts, his team was good, but only barely finished above .500 in his senior season. In between remembrances of perfectly-timed pitches to a halfback and the rare touchdown pass, he once dropped some knowledge on me that I have never forgotten.

“Max,” he said, “we were just like possums—great at home, but got killed on the road.”

As I watched the last seconds drain off the clock in Charlottesville last Saturday, I found myself reflecting on this particular bit, mulling it over without really knowing why it had popped into my head. Watching my Tar Heels lose always stings, but there was something else nudging in the back of my mind, the subconscious place in my brain where my father’s wisdom lives. I reflected on Carolina’s season thus far, lamenting the two nigh-inexplicable blights that now mar the record of my beloved team. That got me wondering; what if these losses weren’t inexplicable after all? What if they were actually downright explicable?

Recall, if you will (although I understand if it’s still a little raw), that the Heels took an undefeated record and a top-5 ranking into a road game against a struggling Florida State squad in Tallahassee, and fell short in a late-game comeback bid. The other loss, fresher and maybe even more painful, is the aforementioned loss to the Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

I fear that this iteration of the team from Chapel Hill is like the North Iredell High School Raiders of yesteryear—possums, all the way down.

The more astute among us may recall another road game, earlier in the year after a virus-mandated lull. The Heels packed up their #12 ranking and headed up to Massachusetts for a tilt against an unproven Boston College squad. I admittedly missed this game when I first came up with the conceit for this post, and worried that it would poke a furry, marsupial hole in my possum theory. But then I realized—not all possums that wander the road are lost. I always do my best to stop for the little rat-tailed rascals, so I know for a fact that I’ve seen a few of those lovely little trash beasts safely across a moonlit highway.

The Heels barely escaped their jaunt to Chestnut Hill, scraping by 26-22. Since then, though, the possum theory has held. I see no reason it would change. To that end, let me be the first to console the Heels faithful regarding a tough loss on the road in Durham tomorrow.

Perhaps the preordained win over Notre Dame on Black Friday will help remove the sting.