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UNC Football: The Coastal is within reach

Carolina emerged this weekend as one of the biggest winners without playing a game.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

In the last season of divisions in ACC Football, there was cause to think that one more round of “Coastal Chaos” would envelop the division, as over half of the teams entered the year with brand new coaches, and the ones with some stability had questions at quarterback. Miami was picked to win, but it was mostly with a shrug as no one was really sure how things would play out.

With five games left, chaos is indeed the rule of law in the Coastal...except at the top.

As we wake up to Homecoming against Pittsburgh this weekend, the Tar Heels are staring down a chance to seize control of the division. Thanks to Duke’s comeback win against Miami, as well as Louisville’s grinding out win over Pittsburgh, Carolina sits at 3-0 in the ACC, while no other squad has less than two losses. Duke and Miami have already lost to the Tar Heels, so they effectively sit three games behind the Tar Heels. Pitt and Georgia Tech have dates in Chapel Hill coming up.

In simplest terms: a Carolina win this weekend would have Carolina 4-0 in the Coastal with four games left, and either a real or effective three-game lead over almost everyone else in the conference. The only one they have yet to see is Georgia Tech, who is starting to see the magic run out of their run. All of a sudden their remaining schedule of Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and NC State looks a lot less daunting.

That said, nothing is secure yet. It would be the epitome of Coastal Chaos to make you think that a team had a solid hold on the crown, only to stumble at the end of the season. There are also a ton of pitfalls for this squad: the defense is still one that can't be fully trusted, Pittsburgh has the type of ball control offense and steady defense that can give the high-octane offense of Carolina issues, Mack Brown STILL hasn’t won a game in Charlottesville in his career, there’s no way to know how wild the Wake Forest game will be, and just about anything can go when the Wolfpack come into town, especially as that game increasingly becomes the only way to salvage what was supposed to be a special season.

There’s also plenty of evidence to show that Carolina can’t handle success, not just in Mack Brown 2.0 but in seasons prior. In Mack 2.0, they had ample opportunities to seize the Coastal in 2019 but came up short: in 2020 they just had to beat Notre Dame and they would have gotten to Charlotte, and they still had a chance to make a statement in the Orange Bowl but came up short. Then last year, well, we don’t need to go how they completely tripped over themselves from the start and things just couldn’t click from there.

But there are signs that maybe, just maybe, this time Lucy will let us kick that football.

The Tar Heels have been the beneficiaries of luck this season. Appalachian State offered multiple opportunities for the Tar Heels to lose, and yet their quarterback couldn’t complete a simple pass for a two-point conversion. Miami seemed to have found the defensive formula to contain the Tar Heels as they forced multiple turnovers from Drake Maye, yet they couldn’t convert them into points. Against Duke, the game was all but lost until their line decided they needed to chop block on a touchdown throw. In each of those situations, the team didn’t waste their chance to take advantage.

As of right now, the Tar Heels are on track to have their first double-digit win total since 2015. That could set the stage for them to play for the ACC title and potentially a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game, so it will be important for them to continue seizing opportunities as they present themselves.

The question is: can this group of Tar Heels handle success, or will they do as so many before them and find ways to squander their chance, only to wonder what could have been?