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UNC vs Western Carolina: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

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The expected result leads to a list that looks a little different

NCAA Football: Western Carolina at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t anything about Saturday that was a surprise, when you boil things right down to the base. Really, the only part that was in doubt was how long it would take Carolina to take control of their FCS opponent in Western Carolina, and fortunately their superior talent took control early. While the defense had some head-scratching moments, you’d have been excused if you were moving on to some holiday chores after halftime as Carolina decided to give their starters a rest and let some young bucks see the field.

Thus, the list is going to look a little different and told about bigger things with the program and individuals instead of specifics with the game. Let’s get right to it.

Winners

UNC Seniors: Anytime you have a coaching change, there’s an upheaval with the players that stay behind. The new staff has to decide who’s good and who needs to move along, and someone like Mack Brown is experienced enough to cut bait with anyone who doesn’t buy in quickly. Yes, Sam Howell is a huge reason that the team is where it is, but they don’t get to that next step unless Michael Carter throws himself into a new system from Phil Longo after two years of Larry Fedora. Chazz Surratt dug deep to surrender his chances of being a quarterback anywhere, completely transforming to be a legitimate NFL talent as a linebacker. You need Dazz Newsome to forget everything he’s learned under Fedora and take on the Air Raid. Patrice Rene has to take on a huge new role in a defense that uses its safeties as the play callers. Tomon Fox buys in enough to where he convinces his brother Tomari to join, creating an instant legacy. Garrett Waltson took on an important role and displayed what this offense could do with a highly-rated TE, setting up the future. Jace Ruder has to swallow the fact that he’s never going to start, and his one chance to make noise last season ended in injury, yet he never became a distraction and stood ready to come in this year. You also have Xach Gill, Matthew Flint, Noah Ruggles, Austyn Chesnut, Austin Chrismon, Trevor Collins, Cooper Graham, Mason Laurence, and Tobechi Nwokeji. All of them served as a huge bridge from the prior staff to the current one and are huge reasons why Mack Brown’s recruiting has shot up since his arrival. To start their careers with the disappointment of the Fedora Crash and end it no worse than a second straight bowl-eligible season will have them as a greatly important part of the rise of this program. Consider this just a small token of thanks for what they’ve done for fans.

UNC’s Bowl Prospects: The fact of the matter is that in a COVID-19 2020, there are going to be fewer opportunities for bowl games. Already, the ACC has lost the Holiday, Fenway, Pinstripe, and Sun Bowls for this season, two of which were going to be brand new showcases for the league. Thus, the margin for error is much smaller, but by going out and putting the Notre Dame game quickly behind them, and doing it with such offensive precision, UNC has put themselves in a great position to be an attractive option for the bowls that are left. On top of that, they’ve now set themselves up for a chance to go to the Orange Bowl: they just need to win this Saturday in Miami, and then root like hell for Clemson over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. That scenario would likely put both squads in the playoff, and with a Tar Heels win over Miami, the Playoff committee would likely rank Carolina ahead of the Hurricanes, which would contractually put them in the Orange Bowl. The appearance, if all this came true, would be the first in the Orange for the school, as well as the first Alliance/Championship/Playoff bowl appearance ever for the Tar Heels. It’s honestly amazing that two years ago this program was pinning its hopes on a hire of Mack Brown and now they have a legitimate shot to go to the Orange Bowl.

Katherine Ryan: AKA Mack Brown’s daughter. At the end of last week, Coach Brown let it be known that his daughter had been invited to compete on Jeopardy! and made it on the show that would be broadcast Friday Night. That Ryan was able to be one of the last to compete in the show hosted by Alex Trebek is amazing enough, but then she won! [SPOILERS AHEAD] She didn’t just sneak into the win, either, but went into Final Jeopardy! with the lead, and provided the correct question to the answer: “What’s now this nation resisted naval sieges by the Berbers in 1429, the Ottomans in 1565 & Axis WWII air assaults.” The question? “What is Malta?” The breast cancer survivor pulled in a total of $22,801 after a $7801 bet, and will compete again tonight at 7 PM on ABC 11 for folks in the Triangle, check here for the station and time in your area. Ryan’s parentage wasn’t mentioned on Friday night, but there’s a decent chance it’ll be brought up in her return appearance.

Losers

UNC Seniors: That they got to compete this season at all is a minor miracle, and so it feels a little small to complain about the fact that their Senior Day wasn’t the one they thought it should be. Prior to the season, this was going to be a Senior Day in front of a packed Kenan Stadium playing their rivals from down the road in Raleigh. The parents would join their children on the field, and tearfully bid good bye to Chapel Hill while hopefully ending their career with a bang. Instead, it ended with a coach wearing a face shield in front of a few fans and having to look at a video board for a special message, against an FCS opponent they easily overpowered. While you know they are happy to compete, it had to at least feel a little bitter that their career in Kenan ended this way because of a pandemic.

Jacolby Criswell: I mean, it hurts when your first pass is almost a Pick-6, saved from the “6” part thanks to an unnecessary penalty on the part of WCU. The Freshman has a long way to go, and with Howell coming back in 2021 he didn’t need to show that he was Mitch Trubisky to Howell’s MarquisE Williams. We also aren’t there in practice every day, so we don’t know what the freshman has been showing. That said, with Drake Maye committed and enrolling at UNC in January, it’s clear that Criswell is going to have his work cut out for him in practice next year. It’s a good position for the program to be in, but rough for the freshman who didn’t who much in his limited chances

Javonte Williams: Let’s make this perfectly clear, this is (mostly) tongue in cheek. This was likely the last appearance in Kenan for Javonte, as he is draft-eligible this year and has been rising up the boards for a lot of scouts: Mel Kiper has him 3rd among draftable running backs right now. He won’t get a Senior Day, and because it was Senior Day for Carter, Michael pretty much got all the touches for touchdowns instead of Javonte. In the end it’s only fair as Williams has tended to vulture scores from Carter due to his running ability closer to the goal line - but now that he’s slowed down from his blistering first 2/3rds of the season, he’s probably no longer the odds-on Doak Walker favorite that he might have been two weeks ago. You wish Williams would be able to get a similar send-off, but he also has two more games to make a mark and sear himself further in Carolina History.

Honorable Mentions

In one half of action, Sam Howell accumulated 287 yards on 20-23 passing and two touchdowns. His handling of the two minute drill at the end of the first half is likely what earned him the right to sit out the complete second half, as the staff felt there was no need to risk him further and the work in that scenario likely was more valuable than trying to run a meaningless series at the start of the third quarter...of the newbies on defense that got a chance to shine later in the game, hat tip to Kaimon Rucker, who ultimately lead the team in tackles with seven, including four solo and two tackles for loss...Chazz Surratt also got to rest for the second half and still finished in second with six total tackles...Dazz Newsome once again showed he’s being emphasized in the offensive plan late in the season, getting several opportunities for plays as well as finally getting to make some punt returns, displaying a mean stiff arm in the process.

Saturday now shapes up as one of the most important games for the Carolina Football program, and for the third time they’ll get the ABC stage to do it on. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.