It would have been easy, and warranted, for one to doubt where Carolina stood after a 34-3 dismantling at the hands of Virginia Tech. Carolina had fallen behind in the Coastal race after a season highlighted by dominance against those same opponents. The national pundits went ahead and claimed the Hokies the team to beat, despite having Pittsburgh and Miami left on their schedule.
Carolina put behind them the embarrassment of Hurricane Matthew and Virginia Tech with a 20-13 win over Miami. The win gave the Tar Heel program its first season with wins over both the Seminoles and Hurricanes. The win also gave Carolina new life in the Coastal division race after Virginia Tech fell on the road to a Dino Babers- led Syracuse team.
It would have been nice to watch the Tar Heels run through the Coastal Division like they did in 2015, but it just wouldn’t seem right. Cliches tell you that it’s harder to win a championship after you’ve won one and that would certainly seem to be the case in this 2016 campaign for Larry Fedora and the boys.
The general consensus going into the season was that Carolina would have difficulty running the table in the Coastal, but a 7-1 or 6-2 record would be good enough to send the team to Orlando. After seven weeks of the season, that would still seem to be the case; although I would question the capability for the program to play for the title with two conference loses after the Virginia Tech loss.
All the while, Carolina is more than on track to accomplish all of its goals heading into the season. After the Georgia loss it was easy to move on from the “playoff talk” after seeing how the committee handled the program playing two FCS in 2015. Still, there was the outside chance after a win in Tallahassee that the Tar Heels could sneak their way into the picture if they could duplicate another 11-win regular season.
Hurricane Matthew and the Hokies ended that talk, and the discussion of Mitch Trubisky being a Heisman Trophy candidate. All of that is okay because the Heels still have everything in front of them. At around 11:00 pm tonight, Carolina could have the ability to win out and find themselves in Orlando if Miami is able to go on the road and unseat the Hokies in Blacksburg. Even if Miami can’t get it done, “Coastal Chaos” has been a staple of the league since it expanded in 2006, so there’s no reason to think that anyone is safe heading into November.
This Saturday will welcome the 121st installment of the “South’s Oldest Rivalry” when the Heels travel to Charlottesville. Yes, there will be an absorbent amount of boat shoes and collard shirts, but don’t be distracted by the history that the rivalry represents. Up until 2010, Carolina had not won in Charlottesville since 1981. In that time the Tar Heels lost heartbreakers like in 1996 when they missed out on an opportunity to play for a marquee bowl game.
The Cavaliers may not present the same type of challenge that they have in the past, but it cannot be overlooked that a same type of Cavalier team took the Tar Heels to the final minutes in a contest back in 2014. Trubisky, who had lost out on the starting quarterback job to Marquise Williams, came in on a fourth down with the game on the line. Trubisky found former Tar Heel receiver and future Wahoo, T.J. Thorpe for the go ahead touchdown.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Nazair Jones then made a critical play intercepting Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert to change moment late in the second half. Assuredly, both will play an important role on Saturday in the Tar Heels quest to stay near the top of the Coastal race in hopes of the program’s first ACC title since 2010.
Fedora would have loved to have his team sitting in mid-October with a win over Georgia and holding a perfect conference record, but as of right now, the Heels are exactly where they could have hoped to be heading down the stretch in the ACC.