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The Debate: Reassessing Tar Heel football success.

Now that the opponents are (mostly) known, let’s take another look at the upcoming season.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Welcome back to The Debate. Each week, this article presents a topic for discussion. 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.

After a few weeks off, it is great to be back. Earlier this month, this article evaluated what Tar Heel football could define as a successful season in 2020. The options were win the division, make a bowl, just play football. Less than a month later, the only possibility remaining could be just to play football.

The chance to win the Coastal Division is gone with the ACC’s announcement of the upcoming season. There will be no divisions, with teams trying to finish in the top two in the regular season to make the Conference Championship. I am also fairly skeptical that by the time December rolls around, there will still be the possibility of bowl games. I think conference championships are still possible and the National Championship tournament is still likely, but the rest of the bowl games are in serious question.

Come September, however, there will probably be at least some college football.

For the ACC, teams will now undertake a 10-game conference schedule and are allowed one out of conference game. Carolina was staring down a matchup against Auburn but with the SEC’s announcement that it would play conference only games, that is likely up in smoke. As the major conferences all fall into line with conference games only, I suspect that these ten games may be all that the Heels see during the regular season this year.

Yesterday, Brandon laid out some quick takes from the schedule. We know who the games will be played against and where they will be played, but the order still remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is now time to revisit those prognostications from a month ago and update the expectations.

The ACC generally looks a bit top-heavy, especially with the addition of Notre Dame this year to the full conference slate. The Irish are generally considered a top-10 preseason team while Clemson is either 1 or 2 depending on what preseason poll one reads. The Heels are pretty steady in the mid-high teens. Miami, Virginia Tech, and Louisville are all dancing around the top-25 mark.

Looking to the Tigers and Irish, there are only two teams that face just one of them with that game being a home game: Carolina (hosting Notre Dame) and Virginia Tech (hosting Clemson). NC State somehow manages not to play either. Keep in mind that Clemson plays at Notre Dame so only one of them can potentially survive the season undefeated.

Of the handful of good teams in the league, Carolina gets the Hokies at home, travels to Coral Gables to play the Hurricanes, and will not face Louisville. This could be a very favorable schedule.

The Debate for the week of July 31: What defines success for the 2020 UNC football season now that the ACC has a plan?

Point: Nothing less than a Conference Championship appearance will do.

It is possible that Carolina will be favored in nearly every regular season game this year. In fact, depending on how late in the season the Notre Dame game is, the Heels could be favored in every game. It will certainly be interesting to see how much of an advantage home field has when there are not full stadiums of screaming fans, but the matchups look good.

I will not reiterate how good this offense could be with nearly everyone back, but a high scoring offense that puts pressure on defenses could ward off close games. Road contests against Boston College and Duke are winnable. Florida State is still rebuilding and Virginia is largely a mystery so those games should be wins also. Any season where the key games are played at home is a good season.

Counterpoint: This season will be about a lot of luck and social distancing.

This is not going to be a typical college football season where the most talented teams normally win. While the game is always about the players on the field, coronavirus has the possibility to remove a lot of players at once. Carolina fans understand what injuries can do to a season, but what if illness takes out a team’s offensive line for two or three weeks? What if those weeks are the critical time during the year? While Mack Brown has been a tremendous recruiter, that year of new players is just not enough yet to sustain a war of attrition.

That’s the reality of the 2020 season. Success is always left to the decisions of college students on the field but this year their decisions off the field may be the determining factor. Will North Carolina be a hot spot in October, or will it be South Carolina or Indiana or Virginia or Florida? There is just no way to predict this season.

The best anyone can hope for is to see the Heels play in September and keep playing for at least three months.

Time for you to decide! With all the developments of the last week, what now constitutes a successful 2020 gridiron campaign for the Heels? Do they have to make the championship game or is this season just too unpredictable to do anything other than enjoy with bated breath?

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – the kegerator has been kept running throughout the stay at home spring and summer. My favorite remains the Hardywood Pils. A crisp beer with wonderful flavor, the only complaint is how long it takes to get a 1/6 keg to the local distributor. Note that while this is a quality beer in the bottle, the draft is far superior.