In case you had any doubt about how the media feels about UNC this season versus last season, all you have to do is look at the preseason ACC predictions that came out after the ACC Kickoff last week.
One of Mack Brown’s themes from this year’s availability was that Carolina was “criminally overrated” last year, where they entered the season highly ranked and expected to contend with Clemson for the ACC title, led by Sam Howell and a multitude of others. This season? Brown felt the team was “criminally underrated” after the departures of a lot of known talent and a big question mark about who the starting quarterback would be between Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye. The disappointing performance of the defense last season and the unknown in how a new coordinator in Gene Chizik also fed into this feeling.
The media, ultimately followed Mack’s prediction.
Earlier this week, the ACC media’s preseason poll was released, and Carolina was predicted to finish third...in the Coastal. For the umpteenth millionth year, folks believe The U is back and gave Miami and new coach Mario Cristobal the nod as preseason champs of the Coastal. Defending ACC Champion Pittsburgh came in second, a huge vote of confidence for a team replacing their starting quarterback and Biletnikoff Award winner. After Carolina, you had Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and then Duke. In the last year that the Coastal will exist, Coastal Chaos continues to reign, as only Duke did not receive any first-place votes in the conference.
On the other side, Clemson was once again chosen to be the overwhelming champ of both the Atlantic and conference as a whole. Showing that absurdity of the voting-while Virginia was predicted to finish below Carolina in the Coastal, they had more votes to win the conference. Carolina finished tied for the seventh most voting points with Florida State.
The “criminal underrating” continued for UNC when the list of ACC Preseason First Team and Player of the Year came out on Wednesday. Carolina placed just one player on the entire team-Josh Downs. While he was the only UNC player, he did get the nod at two spots: Wide Receiver and team specialist, essentially giving to your returners and all impact players. Clemson, unsurprisingly, led the entire conference with having six players on the roster, while the folks in Raleigh landed five along with the preseason player of the year, Devin Leary.
Carolina’s first game against Florida A&M is just one month away, and then we’ll start to see just how true Mack’s words are. After last year’s disastrous start and the season went off the rails quickly, it’s probably a good thing for this squad to be more under the radar. We’ll also see just how much Josh Downs is able to live up to the hype. If the Tar Heels are to have an eight or nine win season, it’ll be because he lived up to his promise.
Either way, soon cleats will be clicking across campus and pads will be popping in the heat. I, for one, can’t wait.