After an unnecessarily protracted piece of television programming on the part of the Atlantic Coast Conference, UNC’s 2023 football schedule is set — we knew that the Heels would be opening the season against South Carolina in Charlotte and then two home games against App State (completing the three-game series that began in 2019) and Minnesota, and now we have the conference schedule as well. You can view the entire schedule through this Twitter video, but I’ll reproduce it below.
- Saturday, September 2nd: vs South Carolina, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC
- Saturday, September 9th: vs Appalachian State
- Saturday, September 16th: vs Minnesota
- Saturday, September 23rd: at Pittsburgh
- Saturday, September 30th: OPEN
- Saturday, October 7th: vs Syracuse
- Saturday, October 14th: vs Miami
- Saturday, October 21st: vs Virginia
- Saturday, October 28th: at Georgia Tech
- Saturday, November 4th: vs Campbell
- Saturday, November 11th: vs Duke
- Saturday, November 18th: at Clemson
- Saturday, November 25th: at N.C. State
A few things stick out immediately about this schedule, none probably more so than the home-away split. The Heels go on the road just once in their first 7 games and just twice in their first 10; it helps that they don’t have any nonconference road games this time around. It’s a huge boon to have that many home games all together, so that as long as this team is good, they can maintain fanbase momentum in the stadium. It’s great for media inertia, too; that opening stretch of ACC play with three home games and two winnable away games sets the Heels up to be pretty buzzworthy in November if they just take care of business.
The flip side of that is that how the season finishes, with a rivalry game against Duke followed by two straight road games at Clemson and then N.C. State, who are arguably the two toughest opponents on the schedule. Playing both consecutively, and both on the road, is a pretty brutal tail end, though at least there isn’t a lot of travel associated with going to Raleigh from Chapel Hill. In prior years, the Rivalry Week game with State has often been on Black Friday instead of Saturday, and seemingly in an effort to mitigate that turnaround, that won’t be the case this year, at least as of now — all of UNC’s games next season are scheduled for Saturdays.
Mack Brown raised some eyebrows with his comments ahead of the schedule release: “We’ve already got one of the toughest schedules in our school history... That out-of-conference schedule is as tough as any in the country. You’ll see they didn’t do us any favors. It’s really, really difficult. We start tough and we finish unbelievably tough. So I’m disappointed. I told them I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was fair.”
As soon as they were published, these comments were the subject of a fair bit of mockery: some people taking aim at the coach for not having the Coastal to fall back on anymore, others just marveling at how soft it is to so openly complain about scheduling, and still others seemingly just frustrated at what seems to be Brown doing preemptive damage control for a season that’s supposed to be the program’s coming-out party onto the national stage.
Personally, honestly, I’m not sure what he’s talking about. I’d much rather have the tough conference games late than early. Especially if you want to classify the out-of-conference schedule as a huge obstacle, you don’t want to extend that tough start into conference play and risk a few early losses so your national relevance and possibly campaign to get back to the conference championship is over before it begins.
And even from an on-field perspective, I want my team’s toughest games to come after they’ve had the most time to gel on the field and when they’re playing their best football, which should be in November, especially given the new offensive coordinator and the number of transfers and new rotation players the Heels will be relying on. Finishing with two road games is pretty brutal, but the tradeoff of that incredible early stretch of home games is one that I think I’m okay making.
Unless, of course, Brown is still scared of being ranked because he still doesn’t think he can get his team to play well with any hint of positive media attention towards them. Overall, I think this is a pretty favorable schedule — or at least one that isn’t going to inflate or deflate the quality of Mack Brown’s team this fall.
What are your reactions to the schedule drop? Sound off below!