While it wasn’t by a large margin, North Carolina was picked as the preseason favorite in the Coastal Division at ACC media day. It seemed reasonable to think the Tar Heels would be near the top of the division, if not champions again.
Fast forward to October 12th, and UNC has lost their first regular-season conference game since 2014, and will need some help to win the Coastal. That’s a bit disappointing. However, it shouldn’t be that surprising.
As we saw this weekend, Virginia Tech is good. Despite last weekend’s loss, Miami has improved, setting up what might be the most important game of the season for both teams this weekend. The Pitt game could very easily have ended in a loss for UNC. Same story with the Florida State game, which was a win that wasn’t expected preseason. North Carolina could end this season at 9-3 or 8-4, and it might not actually be that big of a drop off.
As a whole, the ACC looks pretty decent this season. The four 2016 coaching hires in the conference all look to have improved their respective teams. Miami and Virginia Tech are legitimate division contenders. Syracuse has an offense that will allow them to put up points. (Yes, that doesn’t matter to UNC this season, but still.) Virginia may have lost to an FCS team, but they’ve looked somewhat decent since then.
It’s okay to admit that North Carolina’s win total was a bit inflated last season. That doesn’t change the fact that the 2015 team was still very, very good. 11-3 probably is an accurate record based on who they played last year. It’s just tough to say that last year’s team would be doing any better than this year’s team on the 2016 schedule.
After Miami, there will be three games left on UNC’s schedule that they absolutely should win: Virginia, Duke, and The Citadel. There’s one they probably should, but might not: Georgia Tech. And one that looks fairly tough for a variety of reasons: NC State.
As disappointing as it would be after 2015, it’s not impossible that there are still two losses in there. That might not have sounded reasonable before the season, but at the halfway point, it’s fair to reevaluate things. Even Virginia has a conference win. This schedule is somewhat tough.
If UNC falters down the stretch, and somehow ends up at 7-5 or worse, then yes, that would be a disappointment. That doesn’t seem likely, though. Anything better than that doesn’t seem that far away from par for the course.
There is also a possibility that Carolina gets back on track and beats Miami this weekend. They would still need Virginia Tech to take some losses, but at that point, UNC is right back in the Coastal race, and the talk of 8-4 or worse can be put on hold.
However, they might not win this weekend. They might end up at 9-3 or 8-4, and that’s okay. UNC might take a step back into the middle class of the ACC this year. That shouldn’t change the opinion of this program, or where it could go in the long run.