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UNC Football: Ranking the 2023 schedule by must win-ness

What games could the Heels most use wins in this season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 SDCCU Holiday Bowl Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we continue to look ahead towards the upcoming college football season, let’s take a glance at North Carolina’s football schedule in a different way. We all probably have our opinions on what games will be the easiest and hardest and what the Tar Heels’ record will be. However, this is going to be an attempt to try and figure out what games on the schedule are the most important for Carolina to win.

(Please note, this is based on nothing more than my opinion and the general vibes I’m feeling going into this season. Feel free to disagree and tell us your own rankings.)

12. vs. Campbell (November 4th)

If you’re ranking UNC games by win probability, this one tops the list, as the Heels should easily handle an FCS team that was below .500 last season. It’s not that this isn’t a must win, it’s that if they don’t win this one, there are bigger problems that just one loss to the Fighting Camels.

11. vs. Syracuse (October 7th)

Thanks to the old schedule format, the Orange are the conference opponent that UNC arguably has the least history against. This is a game that, on paper, they should win, especially if they want any hope of doing anything big this season, but there’s not a lot of past bad feelings about Syracuse football.

10. vs. Virginia (October 21st)

Obviously there’s a lot of history in this matchup, but the Cavaliers were picked last in the preseason poll at ACC media day. It’s another in the category of “if they lose this, there are bigger things to worry about.”

9. vs. Minnesota (September 16th)

The Golden Gophers are in a similar-ish position as the Tar Heels in the current college football ecosystem: regularly in the 20-40 range with the best teams potentially cracking the top 10. You would hope that the home field advantage would give UNC a boost, but with this game out of the league, it wouldn’t be the end of the world were the Heels to lose it.

8. at Pitt (September 23rd)

The Heels and Panthers have almost always played close matchups since Pitt has come over to the ACC. This game no longer matters in a potential Coastal Division race, but UNC probably would need to win it to have a shot at making the conference title game.

7. at Georgia Tech (October 28th)

This one has a bit of juice on it after a loss to the Yellow Jackets last season began the end of year slump.

6. vs. Appalachian State (September 9th)

As we’ve seen in the last couple meetings between these two programs, this game will likely be far from a walkover, despite the Power 5 vs. Group of 5 combination. Narrative wise, this would be an annoying one to lose.

5. vs. Miami (October 14)

This is another game that would have a little more juice on it were it still a Coastal Division clash. That being said, this should still be an important game with both teams likely in the second tier of ACC contenders this season.

4. vs. Duke (November 11th)

The Blue Devils were an impressive surprise package last year, going 9-4 in Mike Elko’s first season as coach. UNC got the win over them, but it was a close battle. This will likely be a game the Tar Heels cannot afford to mess around in.

3. vs. South Carolina (September 2nd in Charlotte)

Between the fact that it’s the season opener and because of the recruiting implications, this game ranks fairly high. A loss in a non-conference game in week one won’t wreck the season, but it definitely would put a dampener on the vibes early in the year.

2. at Clemson (November 18th)

On one hand, a win in this particular game would be house money. UNC will be underdogs and could easily accomplish the higher end of their goals this season even if they took a loss in this game. That being said, it would also be a pretty big statement if they went into this game with a good record and then came away with a win.

1. at NC State (November 25th)

After the last couple years, it’s hard to pick anything but this game as the one Carolina needs the most this season.