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Tar Heel Firsts: the first time a UNC football team was ranked

A Carolina football team first appeared in the rankings pretty early on in the poll’s existence.

University of Virginia v University of North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

With what is unfolding daily on the 2020 college football season front, this could end up being a bit of an old school season. Conference after conference has made the decision to delay their season, or only play conference games. Choosing teams for a College Football Playoff could get iffy.

Who knows, we might not even be able to have a playoff, which brings us back to the old school part. If there even is a season at all, the extreme geographic nature of it will resemble a long gone era of college football. An era where national champions were decided by things like the AP Poll.

While picking a national champion this year hopefully won’t end up that drastic, let’s dig back into the history books and look at a time when that wasn’t an absurd notion. Let’s go back to the first time a North Carolina Tar Heels football team was ranked in a poll.

After a controversial end to the 1935 season where four different teams claimed a national championship, the Associated Press decided to create a poll where editors from across the country could rank teams. It was an effort to crown a true national champion as opposed to the mess it had been before that. The first AP national champion, crowned after the 1936 season, was Minnesota, one of the teams whose 1935 frustrations led to the poll’s creation.

Despite an 8-2 season in coach Raymond Wolf’s first season, the 1936 Tar Heel football team never got recognition in the poll at any point. Part of that was likely due to the fact that they lost the only two games they played against ranked teams that year.

They didn’t get any closer to getting that honor when they began the 1937 season with a tie against a South Carolina team that was coming off a losing season. However following that, they won four in a row over the likes of NC State, NYU, Wake Forest, and a Tulane team that had beaten them the previous season. What was even more impressive was the fashion in which they did so. Carolina won those games by a combined score of 80-6, with only NYU scoring on them. None of those teams were world-beaters that year, but all of them except Wake Forest finished above .500.

The fourth of those games was on October 23rd. The second AP Poll of the season was released two days later. UNC were not only included, but they came in at 15th out of 20 teams voted in.

Not only was Carolina ranked for the first time, they got to take part in an all-ranked matchup for the first time next week. Immediately after reaching #15, they hosted #10 Fordham the following Saturday. Their stay in the rankings wouldn’t last long as Fordham won 14-0 and UNC fell right back to out of the rankings.

However, Carolina would finish their season on a high noted with three-straight wins, including one over #8 Duke. Their 7-1-1 record would allow them to finish the season ranked at #19.

Eleven years later, a Carl Snavely coached Tar Heel team would reach #1 for the first and so far only time in school history. Hopefully, a Carolina team will someday return and stay at that peak.