Last season is history. The four-game skid to end a promising season with a pedestrian 9-5 record is squarely in the rear view, and at this point I think I’ve sufficiently sulked and licked my wounds. It’s the offseason, it’s time for us to follow in the footsteps of our Tar Heel forebears and dream wild dreams of the season to come. Let us ingest the traditional offseason cocktail of possibility and concrete scheduling, and elate in our own fervently-held belief that this is our favorite sleeping giant’s year.
On Monday night, the ACC released the 2023 regular season schedule for each team in the conference, but most importantly for the Tar Heels. Akil has written a lovely schedule recap, if you haven’t yet seen it, but that’s not quite what I’m here for.
I’m here to make predictions, completely unadulterated by rationality or any moves that Coach Brown may or may not have made thus far in the offseason. Read on if you, like me, are aching for a hit of that sweet, sweet deluded optimism unique to sports fans who lack any real information.
On Saturday, September 2nd, the Tar Heels will face the Gamecocks of South Carolina in Charlotte. USC finished last season with a bang, dashing the postseason hopes of a top-5 Tennessee before turning around and beating their hated rivals in #7 Clemson in back-to-back weeks. Spencer Rattler is back at quarterback for the Shane Beamer squad that finished last season 8-5 after a letdown against Notre Dame in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Last season, South Carolina trusted Rattler and their special teams units to take care of business against lesser teams, but were outclassed in early-to-mid season tilts against giants such as Georgia, Missouri and the Wompin’ machine from Arkansas (before the wheels ran off).
The Heels will catch the team from Columbia in an early-season figuring-it-out phase as the Gamecocks work to replace a number of departed running backs and defensive secondary players, as well as break in a fairly young group of pass catchers. The real Carolina starts the season off right.
On Saturday, September 9th, Carolina will host the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The team from Boone scored 40 in the fourth quarter of last season’s contest, something that I hope to make sure that no one forgets. Still, that was part of a singularly magical September for the Mountaineers, who then mostly fell off a cliff en route to a mediocre 6-6 finish that saw them missing a bowl game for the first time since their move to FBS football. It was also in a loss, it bears mentioning.
Closer to sea level, unaffected by the altitude of the western part of the state, the Heels will be able to steal another from the mighty Mountaineers, who will still be working in fresh faces at a lot of key positions and on the sidelines.
A week later, on September 16th, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will make the trip east to Kenan Stadium. Minnesota went a familiar 9-4 in the 2022 season, although they arrived at that number in a less heartbreaking way than the Tar Heels; a 4-3 record through the first seven games couldn’t have built up hope the way 6-1 did for Carolina fans. The Gophers beat an up-and-down Syracuse in last season’s Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl and finished ranked #16 by Bill Connelly’s SP+.
The Golden Gophers will be good, but the difference in time zones will likely cause confusion for the team from the Central Time Zone, resulting in a rushed pregame and an unfocused first half.
The Tar Heels will take their first road trip on Saturday, September 23rd, to Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh to face the Pitt Panthers. In the 2022 version of this game in Chapel Hill, the Heels handled the Panthers, who would go on to finish 9-4 on a 5-win streak to end the year ranked #22 in the AP poll. Unfortunately for Pitt, the Heels hold a 7-2 edge over the last 10 years and, per Letterkenny tradition, “you don’t [mess] with tradition.”
The Heels will look to win a tough one on the road in their first trip into hostile territory on the season, but will prevail late after late-game heroics from the new-look Chip Lindsey offense. Plus, the college football internet’s favorite superweapon won’t be anywhere near fully charged in Week 4.
After the bye week, Carolina will return home to Chapel Hill to play host to the Syracuse Orange on Saturday, October 7th. Syracuse had a decent season last year, going 7-6 after the aforementioned loss to Minnesota in their bowl game, and by this point in the season will likely have gelled with their new players and coaching staff.
Unfortunately, the Heels will already have a pseudo-transitive win over the Orange by way of beating Minnesota in Week 3.
Continuing their home stand, the Tar Heels will host the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday, October 14th. In year one of the Mario Cristoball experience, the Hurricanes tripped and fell flat on their beaky faces, finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl. Now Cristobal seems like too good of a coach to allow such mediocrity to continue, and as such we can likely expect a more game Miami squad than what the Heels faced last year.
Fortunately, I see no reason that the Heels won’t also be better and better yet, able to repeat their winning performance.
The Tar Heels will play the Cavaliers of Virginia on Saturday, October 21st in Kenan Stadium. Virginia finished last season just 1-6 in the ACC as part of a rough 3-7 regular season slate, but all of that pales in comparison to the actual, tangible loss of three football players’ lives during the season. It’s a tragedy that I still can’t imagine, and I think the echoes will be rightfully felt for years to come.
I don’t have any jokes here, only simply to say that I will be glad to see the ‘Hoos take the field again next season.
Carolina will make the trip to Atlanta on Saturday, October 28th to visit Georgia Tech in Bobby Dodd Stadium. It’ll be squarely spooky season by the time the Georgia Tech game rolls around, and the Yellow Jackets have been playing the role of the boogeymen in recent years. The Heels will have to channel Jamie Lee Curtis to face down the echoes of past defeats.
As spooky as it sounds, this is a turning point in the season as the Heels exorcise the first of the demons of last year’s season-ending skid.
Returning to Chapel Hill to start November, the Tar Heels will face the Fighting Camels of Campbell University on Saturday, November 4th. I went to basketball camp at Campbell once, and quite enjoyed my time there. The Fighting Camels finished their season in a similar fashion to the Heels, dropping four of their last five, but ending on an uptick with a win over Delaware State to earn a 5-6 record.
Campbell has improved on their record in each sequential season since the wacko 2020 season, but don’t expect the Heels to be a victim of the Fighting Camels this season.
On Saturday, November 11th, the Blue Devils come to town. The team from Duke was much improved under Mike Elko, who earned ACC Coach of the Year accolades in his first year at the helm. I almost hope they have another good season, so that national media take notice of Drake Maye’s performance against them to add steam to the Heisman campaign of the second-year starter.
The Victory Bell prefers lighter shades.
The Tar Heels will head to Clemson on Saturday, November 18th for a tussle with the Tigers. Clemson was lurking near the College Football Playoff and ranked in the top ten last season before South Carolina came in like a feathered torpedo. Of course, they bounced back and slapped a disheartened Tar Heel team around in the ACC Championship Game, but who can even remember anything that happened that long ago?
There’s no title on the line this time, but the revenge tour continues.
To round out the regular season, Carolina will head to Raleigh on Saturday, November 25th. The team from Raleigh was thrilled to beat the Heels last year to end the regular season, posting mocking videos on social media and otherwise enjoying themselves. They’ll surely be up for another season-ending tilt, especially since (in our thought exercise here) the Tar Heels are coming into Carter-Finley carrying a perfect record.
Drake Maye will be looking for one more flashy game to sway the few remaining holdout Heisman voters.
I think we can all agree that this was a balanced and objective analysis of Carolina’s regular season schedule. Unlikely as it may be, if you did happen to find any flaws in my logic, by all means let me know.
That being said, let me be the first to congratulate the Tar Heels for their first trip to the College Football Playoff. Every day is, but that’s really gonna be a great day to be a Tar Heel.