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UNC vs. West Virginia: X-Factor

With so much offensive pieces missing, the wide receivers left standing need to stand tall.

North Carolina v Pittsburgh Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Carolina’s offense will walk through the tunnel at Bank of America Stadium a lot lighter than they were in their magical season-opening win against South Carolina on September 2nd. Drake Maye opted out of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft and an almost undeniable pairing with the New England Patriots. Tez Walker also opted out to prepare for the Senior Bowl. All of the tight ends that saw meaningful snaps are either out (lower body injuries) or transferred (Kamari Morales is now a Boston College Eagle).

If you were on the fence that God abandoned us after another end-of-season slide, the news that Kobe Paysour was practicing to play in the Mayo Bowl, only to break his other foot is proof that we are truly alone and uncared for.

Omarion Hampton and British Brooks stand ready to battle like Jon Snow in the Battle of the Bastards, but are there any Sansa Starks or Knights of the Vale to save the running backs from being stuffed by an 11-man box?

Deems May is the starting tight end. But his inexperience may warrant new formations and a chance for some of the more unheralded wide receivers to have a “She’s All That” moment.

J.J. Jones is the most accomplished of the remaining receivers. He led the team in receptions (42) and was second in receiving yards (658). He only had two touchdowns this season, matching his total from 2022.

Nate McCollum will likely patrol the slot, and if he can reproduce the magic he showed in the Minnesota game, UNC has a fighting chance. If he has a case of the drop-’ems like he did in the Virginia game, it’s curtains for Carolina.

Gavin Blackwell suffered a concussion early in the season and was displaced in the line-up by Tez Walker. If he can provide vertical threat, we know that Conner Harrell has the arm to get him the ball in stride. Freshman Chris Culliver can attest to that. He only has one catch this season, but it was a 41-yard touchdown bomb from Harrell in the Campbell game.

Freshmen Christian Hamilton and Paul Billups are highly regarded, and likely have established chemistry with Harrell having run in the “twos” together for most of the season. It’s likely we’ll see some emergent activity from them, similar to how Andre Greene had his most productive day in Tar Heel blue in the Holiday Bowl when Josh Downs and Antoine Green didn’t play.

Unless Omarion Hampton runs like the unholy child of Earl Campbell and Marshawn Lynch, somebody in the receivers room is going to have to step up to keep Carolina in the Mayo Bowl. Who that is is anyone’s guess.