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UNC Football: Beginning Chapter 2

Coming out of their bye week, the Tar Heels are turning the page on their first four games and getting ready to write another chapter in their story.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you spend some time living, as most of us do from day to day, you’ll start to notice that the world is a chaotic, messy place. Things don’t always fit well together; not everything is sorted neatly in buckets. There are a whole lot of “9 friends, only 8 slices of pizza” scenarios. And if you’re the ninth friend, you understand that the crudeness of the universe can be frustrating. Ultimately, however, we must accept that the world doesn’t line up just for us and we’ll have to live with non-integer quotients, many, many times.

But sometimes, things do sort themselves out perfectly. The pieces do connect snugly; everything is where it should be. The pizza place randomly threw a ninth slice in the box in a fortunately-timed act of kindness. Those are the times when everything does work out. Those times are so satisfying because, for just one moment, that chaotic universe does line up for you, and everything makes sense.

Well that’s how I’ve felt about our football schedule all season.

To my eye, UNC’s regular season breaks down into three neat chapters:

  1. The Statement Games Start
  2. The Must Win Middle
  3. The Climactic Conclusion

By now — because you remember that thing I said about integer quotients and can divide 12 by 3 — you have surely figured out that each of these chapters is four games long. With UNC sitting at 4-0 off the bye week, we must be at the conclusion of Chapter 1, heading into Chapter 2.

Let’s revisit.

Chapter 1, The Statement Games Start

Week 1: South Carolina in Charlotte (W 31-17)

Week 2: App St at Home (W 40-34 2OT)

Week 3: Minnesota at Home (W 31-13)

Week 4: At Pitt (W 41-24)

Now, the App game might have been more survival than statement, but I think anybody in the state of North Carolina (or Michigan or even Texas) could tell you that when you schedule App State, you’re gonna have problems. Otherwise, Carolina has had few issues staying undefeated, so we can appreciate the Heels’ body of work as a whole.

While South Carolina, Minnesota, and Pitt have each been revealed to be lower-mid tier (or worse) in their respective conferences, they are still Power 5 programs. They have players on scholarship. Their coaches get paid, too. In the cases of Shane Beamer and PJ Fleck, they get paid quite a bit, and yet the Tar Heels dominated them all.

I certainly believe UNC made a statement in their first four games — the team is all the way up at 14th in the AP Poll and 13th in the Coaches’, after all — but it was indisputably a Stay Undefeated Start. As we turn the page and leave Chapter 1 behind, UNC football has said what it has needed to.

Of course, if we are concluding Chapter 1, then we must be beginning…

Chapter 2, the Must Win Middle

Week 6: Syracuse at Home

Week 7: Miami at Home

Week 8: At Virginia

Week 9: At Georgia Tech

After making a statement in Chapter 1, it would do the Heels no good to stop speaking now. Coming off a bye — a phrase which has equaled a death sentence in the Mack 2.0 era — the Tar Heels must keep winning. Clemson, a team many have already written off in the national picture and ACC title race, exposed Syracuse as a product of weak northern scheduling rather than a genuine contender in the conference. Well the Heels fancy themselves one of the latter (as everyone should), so they sure ought to show it against Syracuse.

This chapter could have been called the Meaty Middle. We are right in the meat of ACC play, which makes the consequences all the more beefy. After (hopefully) peeling the Orange with relative ease, the Tar Heels will host Miami in the biggest game of their season to date. I do believe Miami to be a genuine ACC title contender (one of 3-5, depending on how I feel), so this game should factor massively into the race to Charlotte. Fortunately for UNC, Mack Brown owns the University of Miami, winning 4 straight against the Canes.

Should the Heels win these next two games against recently 4-0 teams, they would have only two obstacles preventing another perfect chapter: road trips to face the lowly Virginia Cavaliers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who have lost to G5 teams James Madison and Bowling Green, respectively, this season. Those two games are truly must win. If Carolina loses either, I will surely fill a blue cup with my tears.

Assuming that all goes according to plan, UNC will be well set up for…

Chapter 3, The Climactic Conclusion:

Week 10: Campbell at Home

Week 11: Duke at Home

Week 12: At Clemson

Week 13: At NC State

This chapter gets its name for obvious reasons, as the most challenging and meaningful games on the entire schedule coalesce into a season-ending stretch of which it’s difficult to grasp the gravity. The final three* games of Carolina’s season will affect countless legacies, both within the program and outside of it. But we cannot get ahead of ourselves. Again, assuming all goes according to plan, UNC will be well set up for when that stretch arrives. And if that happens, I will be back to talk about Chapter 3 after Week 9, when the time is right.

*Apologies to our Camel friends in Buies Creek, but they are closer functionally to the Bye Week we just enjoyed than an actual football opponent. Still, we thank them for making this a clean 4-game set and for making a creative mascot choice.

But we can’t read Chapter 3 before we get through Chapter 2. Hustle as we might, we can still only read this season’s book one page, one game, at a time. To make all those pages at the end of the season worth reading, the Tar Heels need to spend this next chapter winning, as they did in Chapter 1.

As it turns out, while we are reading this book, UNC’s players and coaches are writing it. So, one writer to anothers, I have just one piece of advice for the Tar Heels:

One page at a time.

Just win.