We don’t get to say this a lot, but Carolina football and basketball have one very important thing in common: we don’t know what the hell to expect out of either teams. Sure, there have been times where how things could go for both teams were a bit shaky, but never has it been like this. The football team made a lot of coaching changes in the offseason, and their star receivers are now in the NFL. For basketball, the entire roster looks completely different from last season, and Hubert Davis has had the absolute best and worst things happen in a matter of two years. Thankfully for today we’re only worried about football, so basketball can wait for another day.
Here’s the thing: Carolina football could either catapult to national contention, or they could do the same things that we’ve seen them do time and time again, effectively making fans get out the pitchforks and marching to Mack Brown’s doorstep. Let’s discuss both of these scenarios, and at the end we can discuss which outcome is the most likely.
Maybe it’s short-sighted for me to say this, but UNC’s schedule isn’t that bad. Sure, there’s a few tough challenges, with going to Death Valley to face Clemson being one of them, but outside of that every other game is winnable. The teams that make me nervous personally are South Carolina (because something dumb always happens in those games), App State, and NC State, and I am willing to listen to arguments about the Syracuse and Virginia games. In an ideal world where Chip Lindsey’s offense is humming and Gene Chizik’s defense is actually disrupting opposing quarterbacks, it’s hard to see this team struggling too much.
Having Drake Maye on the roster immediately makes UNC a threat to any team they face, which he proved during the 2022 season. He’s just as dangerous with his feet as he is passing the ball, he’s very smart, and he is incredibly poised. We still don’t know if the offensive line will take a step forward this season, but Maye was able to get things done with a mediocre line last season. It’s really hard to bet against this kid to do great things, which is predictable considering his bloodline.
Of course the number one question is: can UNC actually beat Clemson in the ACC championship game? It’s very likely that the Tigers would be the opponent waiting for them if they made it to Charlotte, though Florida State (allegedly) is in the running as well. The way I see it, they have a much better chance of beating the Tigers at Bank of America Stadium than they do in Death Valley. If they can knock out the Tigers, I feel good about them being considered for the College Football Playoffs. Assuming they were able to take down everyone else, that is.
UNC’s ceiling seems high, but I don’t think it’s national title high. Truly even the CFP is ambitious, but it’s hard not to see this as being possible considering the fact that Mack Brown has one of the best players in college football on his team. The Heels need to make this year count, and it could be that they pull through for Maye and end the season respectably.
Best-case scenario: Winning the ACC championship game, and losing in the first game of the College Football Playoffs.
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t see this team finishing with a losing record. I think that the Heels have enough pieces in place to hang with anybody in the ACC, and even at their worst they should finish above .500. However, the problem is there are so many unknowns that this season could end in really frustrating fashion.
One could argue that Drake Maye is talented enough to keep an offense moving along that doesn’t quite know what they’re doing in Chip Lindsey’s system. It also could be said that UNC’s defense last season led them to a winning record despite being one of the worst teams in college football in a number of key metrics. It’s because of this that I can see them at worst losing to South Carolina, App State, Clemson, and NC State, while probably losing one more in the regular season for good measure. That would still give the Heels a 7-5 record, which would be good enough to make it to a really bad bowl game and maybe winning the thing.
If this outcome transpired, Bubba Cunningham should be having a very tough conversation with Mack Brown at the end of the season. I highly doubt he’d lose his job, but for everything that he’s done for the program, this weirdly possible scenario shouldn’t even be a thought in our little Tar Heel brains. Yet, here we are.
Worst-case scenario: 7-5 regular season record, followed by a loss to Rutgers in the Jardiance Lavender Haze Bowl...or you know, a real one.
At the end of the day, the Tar Heels probably have a higher ceiling than what the national media thinks, but also has a lower floor than what should be possible. I can honestly see the Heels landing somewhere in the middle, winning a respectable amount of games, missing the ACC championship game, but winning a good bowl game. That would probably make the season a success, but would it be enough for fans who have been waiting for more from the football program? Let me know in the comments below.