It’s been since 1997 that the Tar Heels did two things. It was the last time North Carolina finished a season ranked in the AP poll and it was the last time it posted an ACC record with fewer than three losses.
Larry Fedora has thoughts of ending both of those droughts in 2014.
Fedora has recruited well enough to be considered one of the contenders in a very deep, balanced and impossible to predict ACC Coastal Division. There are holes to plug on both sides of the ball and the team needs to get more consistent across the board.
This means week-in, week-out consistent production against one of the more difficult ACC schedules.
2014 North Carolina Schedule Analysis
The Tar Heels started the season 1-5 last year with an ugly loss to South Carolina in the season opener. North Carolina should begin this fall in much better fashion. Wins in the first two games are musts and a victory over giant-killer and in-state rival East Carolina on the road could easily give UNC a 3-0 start — especially, with two weeks to prepare for the Pirates. From there, however, things toughen up considerably.
Late September grind
The toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be from Week 5 through Week 8. North Carolina will play its toughest non-conference game against Notre Dame on the road, the best ACC team it will play in Clemson on the road and possibly the two most important divisional games of the year against both Tech schools at home. Virginia Tech, picked to win the Coastal, has to come to Chapel Hill but the Tar Heels must face the Hokies smack dab between arguably the toughest two teams on the schedule in Clemson and Notre Dame. North Carolina could crumble during this stretch (like, say, 1-3) or could set itself up for an ACC title run (with a 3-1 mark).
The Coastal Division is always wide open and the Tar Heels get a couple of breaks in the round-robin with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pitt all coming at home. Having to visit Miami and Duke won’t be easy but if UNC can hold serve at home, it has a good shot at being in the thick of division contention all the way to the end of the season. The road trip to Miami on Nov. 1 could become a de facto division title game should The U take steps forward on defense.
Difficult stretch run
The final three games of the year won’t be easy for Fedora’s guys. Pitt is much improved and won’t be an easy out at home in Week 12. Then the year ends with back-to-back rivalry games within the state against the defending Coastal champs — who figure to be much better at season’s end — and an improving NC State team. The important divisional games may already be behind the Heels at this point of the year, but these final three weeks will be very tricky and important. The good news is North Carolina gets a bye week to catch its breath in Week 11 after not getting a break from Week 4 through Week 10.
There is a lot to like about the Tar Heels entering 2014. There is talent to work with and Fedora should have his system well in place entering his third season. The schedule breaks up into three distinct pieces with an easy first three games, a brutal middle stretch and a manageable but tricky final swing. Should Carolina make it to the bye week with only one or two ACC losses, it will have as good a chance as any team to win the Coastal Division. A three-loss team could easily win the division if the three losses come against the right opponents.