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The Debate: What defines Tar Heel football success in 2020?

Evaluating what milestones UNC needs for fans to approve of the year.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to The Debate. Each week, this article presents a topic for debate. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table (with proper social distancing of course), the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

A few weeks ago, this article debated whether or not the uncertainty of the pandemic would be good or bad for Carolina football versus the rest of the country. The topic got me thinking about an article we wrote last summer debating what 2019 football success would look like. There was a lot of optimism and hope at the time, but Mack Brown was still working with a team that had only 3 wins the previous two years. Chad Floyd weighed in that bowl eligibility was the key to the year. I argued that the team needed to beat State and Duke and at least keep other games close. I think we were both right, and it doesn’t matter because both happened anyways.

Fast forward a year. There is even more optimism and a wave of momentum around the program. Sam Howell is a quiet candidate for the Heisman. The vast majority of the offense is back. Chazz Surratt is a proven star at linebacker. So, at the end of the season, what will it take for Carolina fans to say this year was a success?

Now, on with the show.

The Debate for the week of July 10: What defines success for the 2020 UNC football season?

Point: Nothing less than a Coastal Division Championship will do.

The ACC Coastal is the most volatile and unpredictable division in all of college football. A different winner just about every year means that parity reigns supreme. The difference between winning the division and finishing in a three way tie for third could be as little as an overtime loss at Pitt, a six overtime loss in Blacksburg, and a two point conversion at home against Clemson. The Heels were just learning how to win last year, but no one will bet against them in close games in 2020.

Don’t forget that last year was the first for almost all of the coaching staff in Chapel Hill. Mack Brown had not been a head coach in six years. Honestly, it showed. There were mistakes on the sideline in late game situations and a general sense of a bit too much chaos.

Sam Howell was certainly a fourth quarter gunslinger, but a stagnant offense often led to those late game deficits. Perhaps a bit more experience, preparation, and productivity in the first half could breed smoother victories. Even a slightly above average defense should be enough to allow a loaded offense to stretch out leads.

In a division with no dominant team, a dominant offense should be enough to win. Boston College is the draw on this year’s schedule from the Atlantic in addition to State. Both are very winnable contests. Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech are at home. Virginia won the division outright with a 6-2 record last year and the Heels should at least match that.

Counterpoint: Let’s not get greedy. This is still a young team that just needs to get to another bowl.

All of those freshmen and first year starters from last year are just sophomores and second year starters this year. Its not as though this magically turned into a totally veteran squad. The program is likely one more year away from these great recruiting classes turning into a deep bench with talent all over the field.

It is easy to get swept up in all of the momentum from a surprisingly fun 2019 campaign. Before anyone has dreams of a major bowl game, however, perhaps a peek at the schedule would be in order. An opening date in Orlando against UCF is a very difficult start (assuming that the ACC plays non-conference games). The Knights are a perennial power that will immediately test the Tar Heel defense and put pressure on Sam Howell to perform immediately. Follow that up with a home game against Auburn and the predictions say the Heels are 0-2 right from the jump (this all warrants a deeper look at whether a shortened season that only has conference games would benefit the Heels).

Even with a favorable schedule the rest of the way in, starting in a hole can be very difficult to dig out of. Expectations could be almost immediately reset and fans will need patience to survive another up and down season. Staying competitive in the division and finishing with a winning record will keep the upward trend progressing ahead of another huge recruiting class.

Counter Counter Point: Let’s just have a season.

At some point, just getting to see the Heels play football is going to be a huge relief. College football will represent a return to some form of normalcy. There may be fans or it may just be an apocalyptic empty stadium bizarro world, but it will still be college football.

The truth is that this fall could be the most unbelievably awesome sports season of all time. If nothing else gets pushed off schedule, we’d have college football, the NFL, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, the Kentucky Derby, the Masters. That is an amazing lineup and would be a true silver lining to what has been a life-altering horrible experience. Let’s just be satisfied with the game on the field.

Time for you to decide! What constitutes a successful 2020 gridiron campaign for the Heels? Do they have to win the division, just make a bowl, or just get on the field?

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – My wife enjoys the low calorie combination of Tito’s vodka, club soda, and plenty of lemon juice. For an even lower calorie option just use the Soda Stream and pump out plain carbonated water. Very tasty and refreshing for a hot summer weekend.