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UNC Football: Worries and Dreams

Heisman hopes and chicken supremes.

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

I don’t recall the last time I was this excited for a Tar Heel football season. I always eagerly anticipate the beginning of the season as a whole, since college football is my favorite sport, but this is the most anxious I can remember being to specifically watch the Heels play it. It’s a strange thing.

Saying this season will be odd, after the decade that the last year turned out to be, is perhaps a little trite. By all accounts, summer workouts are ongoing as usual, and there was a spring game this year (in front of fans, even; imagine that). The weirdness awaiting us in the coming season has a different feeling preceding it. It seems as though we’re being granted a respite from the feeling that the world is ending, which I’m grateful for. The world of college football has weirdness baked into it; this mostly-regional rabid tribalism inherent in the sport we so dearly love, based entirely on which school you attended or otherwise have an affinity for. A weird season in a weird sport, then; although we have reason to hope that the weirdness will fall within the standard deviation of what we call a normal college football season, that weirdness still lurks—waiting to subvert expectations and dash the hopes and dreams that we so foolishly allow to bloom in the offseason.

Maybe that’s why I’m so anxious about this season. The squared oddness that is college football in 2021 promises to surprise, if nothing else; and I’ve allowed myself to begin to hope that this year could be special. It’s not like my anxiety is unfounded—things have certainly changed, and will continue to do so. Sam Howell is suddenly a paid spokesman for Bojangles (which I wholeheartedly applaud and relish). Texas seems to be back leaving the Big 12 for the SEC right behind Oklahoma, which will likely create a slew of conferences suddenly realigning to make room for the schools abandoning the shambling husk of the Big 12. Oh, and we’re doing our best to drag ourselves out of a global pandemic (please get vaccinated, gang).

I brought Texas up for a couple of reasons. The Longhorns and the Tar Heels are linked by The Once and Future Coach, of course, although the programs currently appear to be trending in different directions. The news of the move for the perennial playoff contender and their also-ran rival will surely have ripple effects that are felt throughout our weird college football nation. That weirdness, when added to what we discussed above, does not bode well for fans who have made the mistake of beginning to hope for something. Texas fans, I’m sure, are acutely aware of the possibility of a team not living up to preseason dreams.

This season, it feels like the Tar Heels have something to lose. We’ll just have to wait and see; right now, all we can do is dream.