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UNC Football still has a lot to play for in 2016

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The College Football Playoffs may be out of reach, but Carolina still has a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The initial College Football Playoff committee rankings pegged Carolina as the No. 21 team in the nation. The ranking is an improvement from last season, where a one-loss Carolina team was unranked in the first ranking. I continue to hold the same feeling that I did when TCU fell from 3 to 6 after a 52 point drubbing in the final 2014 ranking, that the poll doesn’t matter until December 4. Sure, the ranking will give people an indication on what “metrics” the committee is leaning towards, but that changes every week.

Heading into Homecoming weekend, Carolina needs to remain focused on the things that they can control. The Tar Heels still are at the mercy of Virginia Tech, who they need to lose once more in order to have a shot at the ACC championship game in Orlando. After watching the Hokies win back-to-back Thursday night games over Miami and Pitt, that would seem to be an unlikely occurrence with Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia on the remaining schedule.

A Hokies loss or not, Carolina still has plenty of business to take care of on their own end. Remember, Carolina cannot play for an ACC title unless they win out first, and then Virginia Tech loses at least once. That’s why the committee ranking shouldn’t be taken into that much consideration at this point in the season.

The hope is that the Tar Heels win find their way to 10-2 (7-1 ACC) and be aided by a Hokie loss, earning their way to Orlando. At that point, it will be a likely “rematch” of last seasons title game with Clemson. A win over Clemson would be the only way that Carolina earns a spot into a New Year’s Six bowl. One would argue, including myself, that the Tar Heels should have qualified for one over Florida State last year, on the simple fact that the Seminoles benefitted from not playing in Charlotte and that the Tar Heels dominated common opponents.

That has nothing to do with this season, but keeping a slight eye on Louisville will be important. The Cardinals, like the Tar Heels, have a one marquee win coming over 23rd ranked Florida State. At the moment, it would appear that Louisville still has an outside chance at the playoff, but would need mass chaos ensue with their weak remaining schedule. Were Louisville to win out, they would assuredly be placed in a NY6 bowl. By that fact, Carolina would, again, have a tough time getting in at 10-2 or 10-3.

It will also be important that Carolina is ranked in the Top 16, for that is the cutoff for a team to qualify for a NY6 bowl. Florida State and Pitt winning out and Georgia getting it together would go a long way to reaching that point. So would the losses of other teams with inflatable rankings, i.e. Penn State, losing a few games in November.

Realistically, the only shot that the Tar Heels have at making it to the NY6 is by winning the program’s first ACC title since 1980. A tall task, but one that would further solidify what Larry Fedora has done in his five year in Chapel Hill and continue to change the national perception of Carolina football.

This season may not have the same type of feeling and sense of a magical ride that 2015 had with the 11 straight wins, but it could go even further to pushing along this program. Many came into the season with high expectations of what Carolina could do. The Coastal division crown was probably the lowest of those expectations. I won’t say that there was a large faction on the Tar Heel fan base that felt that the playoff was at hand, but certainly earning another chance at playing for an ACC championship was.

Georgia Tech, Duke and NC State stand in front of that dream right now. Paul Johnson will again bring his annoying triple-option attack to Chapel Hill on Saturday. That will be followed by a quick turnaround and even shorter road trip to Durham on the following Thursday. The Citadel will be pesky, if not only for their option offense, but for their belief after embarrassing South Carolina a year ago. Still letting the turkey settle, State will travel to Chapel Hill to renew the rivalry.

Whether the Hokies have faltered by the time the Wolfpack come to town, Carolina should still have a lot to play for on Black Friday. The hopes of a Coastal title and an ACC crown may be on hold right now, but don’t let that cloud the fact that the Tar Heels are still in the hunt for one of College Football’s most prestigious bowls.