Heading into the season, North Carolina’s game in Tallahassee was seen as a pretty clear loss. Turns out, it wasn’t. While Florida State may not be quite as good as expected this season, it’s still a win not a lot of people thought would happen.
It may not have happened in the expected way, 4-1 was seen as the most realistic best case scenario after five games. Well, UNC is there. So what is the ceiling for this team in 2016?
Coming into the season, 10-2 seemed like the best record possible. It also wasn’t unrealistic to think that 9-3 or 8-4 could happen. It wasn’t unreasonable to be high on the Tar Heels and still find that many losses. That’s just how the schedule seemed to work out this year. However, some things have changed since the season started.
The Tar Heels defeated all the remaining ACC opponents in the corresponding games last season. The other game on their schedule is an FCS team. Every game left on their schedule is winnable, with the toughest two coming in the next two games.
Should UNC win their next two games, there’s a decent chance they will repeat last year’s 11-1 record and ACC Championship game appearance. Waiting for them would likely be Clemson, again. With FSU 0-2 in conference and the Tigers holding the tiebreaker over Louisville, Clemson basically has a two-game lead in the Atlantic Division.
The Tigers looked pretty good in that Louisville game, but their offense hasn’t been as good as the 2015 version. Should UNC play them again in the title game this season, could the result be flipped the other way around?
The answer to that is probably not. The best case scenario for this team is probably a repeat of last year: 11-1, ACC Championship Game loss, trip to a decent-sized bowl.
However, there are still multiple possible losses on UNC’s schedule. Miami hasn’t played the best competition, but they look like a really good team. Virginia Tech is a lot better than expected. With Carolina’s defense, Georgia Tech and NC State could very easily turn into difficult games.
That being said, if this year does continue like last season did, then Carolina will probably gain notice on a national stage far earlier. Georgia doesn’t appear to be great, but the loss probably won’t drag them down as much as South Carolina did last year. Even if Florida State drops one or two more games, that win still might be better than any the 2015 UNC team had. Carolina also came into this season with a little more notoriety.
If North Carolina can replicate last year’s success, they will probably have a better claim to a possible playoff spot. Part of the reason for that is the rest of the schedule is still tougher than last year.
Of course there is still quite a long way to go before any of that matters. North Carolina could very easily lose more games. No one should start looking for ACC Championship Game tickets yet. However, the ceiling is probably higher than it was last year. It’s just the floor might be lower too.