The Tar Heels look to navigate a difficult schedule in Mack Brown's first season back in Chapel Hill
It's been eight months since Mack Brown was hired as North Carolina's head coach for a second time. During that time, a debate has continued as to whether he was the right choice to lead the program. Soon we will begin to find out.
Brown's return has generated plenty of excitement, though UNC supporters know this will not be a quick fix. The talent level will not be changed immediately and there will be an adjustment period for both the players and the coach that hasn't been on the sidelines since 2013.
One would expect that under the new coaching staff Carolina will field a more competitive team in November than they will in August and September. But what will that mean record-wise? Here’s what Athlon Sports editors and one of its college football contributors think heading into the fall.
North Carolina Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Mack Brown’s return to North Carolina is going to be an interesting storyline to watch over the next couple of seasons. However, the rebuilding process won’t be easy, as Brown and his staff inherit a program with a lot of question marks and a tough schedule in 2019. The Tar Heels can lean on a talented stable of running backs until one of the young quarterbacks – Jace Ruder, Cade Fortin and Sam Howell – emerges. However, North Carolina returns only two starters up front and needs more playmakers to emerge from the receiving corps. Jay Bateman is a home-run hire as defensive coordinator, but the Tar Heels gave up 34.5 points a game last fall and major concerns remain. The guess here is this team gets better over the course of the season and pulls off an upset or two to get to four wins.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
The first year of Mack Brown's second tour of duty in Chapel Hill could be rough. The only sure win is against Mercer at home. After that it's hard to find five more wins to make this team bowl-eligible. I'll give them a win over App State at home — but that's far from a given — and two ACC wins, at Georgia Tech and at home vs. Duke. The key to this season, more than any win total, is establishing Sam Howell at quarterback. If that happens, the Heels should be in position to take a big step forward in 2020.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
It will be tough sledding out of the gates for the TarHeels. The game in Charlotte against South Carolina is not a situation where new head coach Mack Brown can ease into the season and that contest is followed up by battles with Miami, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and Clemson. That's rough, but I do think they get one win out of that stretch with App State at home being my choice. As the season goes on — and Carolina starts to improve in the new system — the schedule becomes more manageable. A stinker will appear on the back half of the schedule, but the team will be vastly more competitive, especially if true freshman quarterback Sam Howell plays and is allowed to grow. The Tar Heels won't reach bowl eligibility, but they will have improved enough down the stretch to get people talking about what could happen in 2020.