Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been previewing North Carolina football, looking at the players and coaches ahead of the 2022 season. However, now we’re into game week. Now, it’s time to start looking at the potential scenarios for the Tar Heels this season.
Ahead of Saturday night’s season opener, let’s put on our thinking caps and try and figure out what the best and worst case scenarios for this year’s UNC team are.
Best Case Scenario
For whatever qualms you may have about coaching, talent development, schemes, or whatever else, on paper, there is lots of talent on this team. The highly-rated recruiting classes of recent years are coming to ages where they could make an impact. Even though he doesn’t have a ton of experience at the college level yet, starting quarterback Drake Maye was a highly ranked prospect who was committed to powerhouse Alabama at a point. Sure, there’s going to be some adjustments to make with a new quarterback, some new coaches, and everything else, but it wouldn’t be out of the question that there’s enough talent to make everything click quickly.
Schedule wise, things aren’t incredibly easy, as the Tar Heels will have to face five teams who made the preseason AP Top 25. However, other than #5 Notre Dame, there’s no team where there’s no scenario where it’s hard to picture a UNC win. Even with the Irish, they’re breaking in a new coach, and the game’s early enough that maybe they could be caught in an adjustment period. It’s not an easy schedule, but it’s not like there aren’t opportunities.
On the other hand, there’s still enough new about UNC and just enough difficult teams, that even if everything clicks, there’s still a good chance they drop a game or two. That being said, while the Coastal isn’t quite the “everyone finishes between 5-3 and 3-5” mess that it has the reputation of, the two teams projected at the top aren’t infallible.
Pitt could be good again, but their high ranking seems to be a reaction to them winning the ACC last year. They have some very important pieces to replace in quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver Jordan Addison. Meanwhile, Miami’s hiring of Mario Cristobal was one of the stories of the offseason, but it’s his first season, and there are some valid questions that he needs to answer to.
Is this my prediction for what will happen for the 2022 UNC football team? No, but if we’re talking “best case scenario” is it a viable possibility? Sure.
Best Case Scenario: 11-1/10-2, Coastal Division winners, New Year’s Day Bowl bid
Worst Case Scenario
As mentioned, UNC has a lot of talent. You know who else had a lot of talent? The 2021 North Carolina Tar Heels football team. I think it’s safe to say that no one was happy with how last season turned out.
One of the big question marks coming into this season has been the quarterback position. Mack Brown answered that question mark for now by, as mentioned, naming Maye the starter. The worst case scenario probably involves him not being able to nail down that gig, with Jacolby Criswell also unable to provide consistency. Since returning to UNC, Brown hasn’t had quarterback issues, with Sam Howell holding down that spot for three years. However in his history, Brown has had years of quarterback controversies. If that arises again this year, and the position turns into a merry-go-round, that’s going to lead to issues.
Another potential issue is the defense under Gene Chizik, in his first year back in Chapel Hill. In Chizik’s first stint at UNC, the team was able to adjust fairly quickly. The defense became a solid, bend but not break unit, and the team ended up winning the Coastal. However, they were most just solid, not outstanding. It’s been a while since Chizik has had a truly outstanding defense. While, again, the talent is there, if they can’t figure out how to be good.
Last offseason’s change at defensive coordinator will also mean increased focus on the offense and OC Phil Longo. If the offense struggles badly enough, maybe we get a midseason change, but there will at least be weekly questions to Brown about Longo, which might not be good for the cohesion of this year’s team.
As mentioned, the schedule has it’s tough games, but it’s also manageable. There are enough winnable games on there that it’s hard to see this team be bad enough to miss bowl eligibility, or at worst just miss out.
Worst Case Scenario: 5-7/6-6/7-5, loss in a mid/lower-tier bowl game
The actual answer for how UNC does this season is probably in the middle of those two scenarios, but if you squint, you can definitely see the high end or low end of the possibilities for 2022 happening.