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UNC Football: Wasteland

Be still, my indelible friend, / you are unbreaking.

Oldest desert in the world: Namib Photo by Murat Ozgur Guvendik/Anadolu via Getty Images

All the fear and the fire of the end of the world...

We are hurtling (read: limping, skidding, free-falling) toward another college football offseason. The Tar Heels are out of the Top 25, out of the hunt for any kind of notable season, and out of steam. The team will be watching the ACC Championship from home, after being fully in control of their own destiny only to watch that destiny founder and sink upon the fully-avoidable rocks. A few grains of sand remain in the 2023 season’s hourglass; a handful of practices and an easily opt-out-able pre-New Year’s meh-tier bowl game with a head-scratching corporate tie-in standing between us and the wasteland.

All the things yet to come are the things that have passed...

Wasteland feels like an apt descriptor when taking in this season and, in fact, the past several Tar Heel football seasons. Generational quarterbacks, in back-to-back seasons, that yielded even the possibility of only nine wins in each (counting a seemingly-unlikely win to end this season in whatever aforementioned bowl the Heels are assigned). Sam Howell’s 2021 Carolina team crashed to a disappointing 6-7 after a preseason Top 10 ranking. In the first season with Drake Maye under center in 2022, the Heels were 9-1 in Week 11, standing unknowingly on the precipice of a four-game skid to end that season in less-than-ceremonious fashion. A loss in the ACC Championship game added to that loss total; this season’s team won’t even have the opportunity to lose that game, despite starting 6-0 for the first time since 1997.

Though quaking, though crazy, that’s just wasteland, baby...

These seasons have not been without their high points. The Namib Desert, pictured at the top of this post, is home to the second-highest sand dunes in the world. Likewise, Carolina in each season has retained the Victory Bell, the bare minimum needed to keep Tar Heel faithful across the country from embracing true despair. 2021 also saw the upset of an inexplicably top-10 ranked Wake Forest in Chapel Hill, and 2022 saw the Heels travel to Boone and hold off an Appalachian State team having one of the hottest Septembers in history in a thriller. This season even started with a bang, with nine sacks against South Carolina luring in the unsuspecting observer with hollow promises of a reformed defense.

Wasteland, baby / I’m in love, I’m in love wit’ you...

Hozier, the singer-songwriter perhaps best known on the radio for his debut single “Take Me To Church,” released his second album Wasteland, Baby! in 2019. It plays as an effort to reconcile the obvious ills of the world with the small joys and moments of intimacy particular to the human experience. Leaning heavily on his one-moment-soaring, next-moment-whispering vocals, it’s a moody and vulnerable album. Buried behind the rock-leaning guitar and the driving drum, there is a kernel of hope at the heart of the album at large as well as the title track. The lyric above is that hope, that desire to embrace the worst in someone or something and love it in spite, or perhaps because of, the flawed nature of the thing.

Not an end, but the start of all things that are left to do.

This season has been disappointing. I wrote last week about finding things to be grateful for in the midst of that disappointment, then found myself crushed at the nature of Saturday’s loss to the team from Raleigh. It’s hard to find things to love in a wasteland, but that’s the challenge that faces us on the other side of whichever bowl the Heels will play in. The season isn’t quite over, but with the desolation already creeping in, we strive to find things to latch on to. Maybe that’s doing our best to enjoy the play of Drake Maye while he’s still a Tar Heel, thankful that he stuck around for one more year. Maybe it’s waiting to see what changes are made in the intervening days, for certainly there must be some coming. Maybe it’s tomorrow night’s men’s basketball game against Tennessee.

Whatever that thing is for you, enjoy it to the fullest extent. In any case, far be it from me to wish time away; soon we’ll be squarely in the college football wasteland, and I’m going to do my best to find the hope and joy in what remains of this season.