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UNC Football: Ranking the most important games of the season

What games will be the biggest keys if UNC wants to accomplish their goals in 2021?

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

We are now entering the home stretch off the football offseason and are just a few weeks away from the start of the 2021 North Carolina football campaign. The Tar Heels come in with some high hopes, with plenty thinking they could win the Coastal Division and go to the ACC Championship Game, or maybe even more.

However, there’s still a long way to go before that, so let’s take a look at the schedule, and look at what games will be the most important if UNC wants to have a memorable season.

1. at Notre Dame (October 30)

Seeing as this game is back to a non-conference one this year, UNC could lose in South Bend and still accomplish pretty much all of their goals. However, the reason it is #1 is because just like last year, it is going to be a litmus test for where the Tar Heel football program is at.

Last year, Carolina hung with Notre Dame for a while before it became clear that the Irish were just deeper and more talented than UNC. While both teams will have undergone some big changes compared to 2020, it will be another chance to see how much progress they’ve made in the Mack Brown 2.0 era. Assuming Notre Dame plays up to potential, if UNC wins, it will be the biggest football win for Carolina in years.

However, ranking this game at the top spot presumes that UNC will take care of business in most, and hopefully all of the previous seven games. Those seven include the next two games on this list.

2. vs. Miami (October 16)

The Heels were voted as the preseason favorite in the Coastal Division, with Miami coming in second. If that holds to form, this game could be a battle for the division crown, and the game will be in Chapel Hill this year. While it’s not necessarily a must win for UNC’s Coastal hopes, it probably will be a win they could really use.

Carolina quite notably ran all over the Hurricanes last year, but they have to replace the running back duo who were Miami’s chief tormentors.

3. at Virginia Tech (September 3)

UNC’s season opener will double as it’s ACC opener, and also be another crucial game in the Coastal race. While on paper the Hokies are a pretty solid team, there are questions about head coach Justin Fuente’s status going into the 2021 season. Considering this is a Friday night road game to start the season, it should be tough, but it would be an extremely less than ideal loss for UNC to take, if they want to accomplish their goals.

4. at NC State (November 26)

State is getting some hype coming into this season, getting voted second in the Atlantic Division in the media day poll. With Clemson in their division, it’s probably unlikely that winning this game would impact their conference title hopes, but this could be a very important game for both teams for non-rivalry reasons. Oh yeah, and there’s also rivalry reasons.

5. vs. Florida State (October 9)

UNC took a loss to FSU in Tallahassee last year, for seemingly no other reasons besides Florida State’s aura and Carolina not being able to handle that for whatever reason. The Heels were a better team last season, and if you just looked the stats minus the final score, you might assume they’d won. While the game will be at home this year, if UNC can handle it without any drama, it will be an obvious step forward.

6. vs. Virginia (September 18)

Virginia is the one team that, for whatever reason, UNC has had inexplicable struggles with since Brown returned. While UVA was probably the better team in 2019, last year UNC clearly had the better season, but took a bad loss in Charlottesville. In addition to this being another important Coastal game, it’s also a chance to right some of those wrongs.

7. at Pitt (November 11)

UNC will have the national stage somewhat to themselves in this Thursday night game. That alone bumped it up a few spots, but the Panthers are another team that could be a rival for the Coastal.

8. vs. Wake Forest (November 6)

This is the return game for UNC and Wake’s “non-conference even through we’re in the same conference” series they started in 2019. So while it won’t count in the ACC race, it’s a chance for a win over what will probably be a solid and well-coached team.

9. vs. Duke (October 2)

The rivalry status of this game bumps it up, as UNC will probably go in as pretty decent favorites. They handled business pretty well against the Blue Devils last year, which hopefully carries over to this year. Losing this one would be very, very bad for UNC, even beyond Victory Bell reasons.

10. at Georgia Tech (September 25)

The Yellow Jackets are still trying to to revamp from the option years, and are coming of a 3-7 record in Geoff Collins’ second season. Tech’s three games coming into this one are two winnable ones (Northern Illinois and Kennesaw State) and one very not winnable one (Clemson), so it’s unclear how much we’ll know about them coming into this game.

11. vs. Georgia State (September 11)

The Panthers were a solid Sun Belt team last year, but UNC will still be big favorites in this game. If they lose it, they probably have bigger problems than just this game.

12. vs. Wofford (November 20)

See the Georgia State game, only sub in “bad FCS team.”

There’s plenty of room for disagreement, so tell us what you think UNC’s most important games are and why.