Every year since Mack Brown's return to Carolina, fans have been expecting an ACC Title to be added to the trophy case, but with four seasons under his belt in this new Mack Brown Era, all the Tar Heels have to show for it is one bowl win. In this new NIL era, the landscape of college football, and all college sports for that matter, has changed. There is adapting to be done and struggles to overcome. Carolina's athletic program is storied, and there is no reason the Tar Heels should not be in contention for Conference and National Championships across every sport the university offers.
As we enter Mack Brown's fifth season back with Carolina, I would argue the expectations for this season are higher than ever. I've stated before that the fifth season for any coach is the most important, in my opinion, because it is in the fifth season that a coach has filtered out athletes from the previous coaching regime and has gone through four recruiting classes to make a roster with (nearly) 100% players that coach has recruited.
With Brown entering his fifth year and a full roster of players he has hand selected, including one of the most talented quarterbacks in Division I football, I am placing high expectations on the Tar Heels football team this season.
Game 1 vs. South Carolina. The matchup between the Tar Heels and the Gamecocks at the Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte may be the best game of the season on Carolina's schedule. Here we have two teams that have had relatively similar seasons the last two seasons and have added quarterbacks to their roster, putting them both in a very good situation for the season. The Tar Heels must walk away from Charlotte with a win because it will set the tone for this year's Tar Heels. A win against an SEC opponent is the perfect way to kick off the season.
Game 2 vs. Appalachian State. Could this eventually be the best football rivalry the state of North Carolina has to offer? The Tar Heels and the Mountaineers have faced off against one another twice since 2019, and the series is tied 1-1 since their 2019 matchup. With App State being the up-and-coming team in the state, the Tar Heels have a perfect opportunity to send a message to the Mountaineers that they have no interest in making this matchup a rivalry. The Tar Heels own the state.
Game 3 vs Minnesota. This is the first time the Tar Heels and the Golden Gophers have lined up against one another. According to the ESPN College Football Power Index, Carolina and Minnesota are within ten spots of one another, so expect this matchup to be a tight one. It's a showdown between the ACC and the Big Ten, and the ACC is out to prove something this season. Prove that they belong. If the North Carolina vs. South Carolina Game isn't the game of the season, this one will be!
Game 4 @ Pitt. Since Coach Brown took over for the Tar Heels in 2019, the Tar Heels have gone 1-2 against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Luckily, the Tar Heels walked away with an 18-point win against the Panthers last season, and I have no reason to believe they won't do the same again this year!
Game 5 vs. Syracuse. Last season the Tar Heels defeated the Orange 31-6, but Syracuse looks a tad better this year than last. They have a more competent offense that will be difficult keeping to just six points. That said, the Tar Heels shouldn't have a hard time with Syracuse this season. The Orange did have to find replacements for some of their defensive starters, and the Carolina offense is looking better than ever.
Game 6 vs. Miami. This is the first game on the schedule that scares me because Miami is such a wildcard. You never know how good they're truly going to be until about the time they come to visit Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are currently on a four-game winning streak against the Hurricanes, and a loss against them may be due. For right now, I have this game circled on my calendar. If the Tar Heels can walk away from this game with a win, I think we may have a real shot at an ACC Championship.
Game 7 vs. Virginia. Now this is a game that really REALLY scares me. Virginia is rarely good at football, but for some reason, they like to pull a win out of their ass when it comes to playing the Tar Heels. On paper, the Tar Heels should easily walk away from this game with a win, but this always seems to be a toss-up game.
Game 8 @ Georgia Tech. Right around week eight is when the Tar Heels start to choke. Coming into this week, the Tar Heels could be 7-0 and a Top-10 team in College Football. Georgia Tech has had their way with the Tar Heels the last two seasons. Another toss-up game but a winnable one.
Game 9 vs. Campbell. If Carolina loses this game, call off the rest of the season...
Game 10 vs. Duke. Mack Brown has not lost to the Blue Devils since returning to Carolina; this season is not the season to lose. The Victory Bell will remain in Chapel Hill for another season!
Game 11 @ Clemson. The Tar Heels are going to Clemson... It has been a long time since the Tar Heels went to Clemson and won a football game (2001). Clemson does not often lose in Death Valley, so I'm not optimistic about our chances. Now, if we can get Clemson in the ACC title game and out of Death Valley, that might be another story, but for this game, I won't expect a win for the Tar Heels.
Game 12 @ NC State. The Tar Heels and the Wolfpack have gone back and forth in the last ten matchups against one another. In that time, the Wolfpack are leading the series 6-4 and have gone on a three-game winning streak during that time. The Wolfpack won the last two games, the Tar Heels won the two before that. This'll be another great game to close out the season that could go either way.
Tar Heels Ceiling: 11-1
Tar Heels Floor: 5-7