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North Carolina Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tar Heels' Schedule

North Carolina Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tar Heels' Schedule

North Carolina Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tar Heels' Schedule

After consecutive 3-9 finishes, North Carolina's 7-6 record under Mack Brown in 2019 was very impressive. But it was much more than the wins and losses that have the Tar Heels' fan base energized.

All six of those losses were by one score, meaning that Carolina could easily had a few more wins. There is also the fact that UNC was led by a true freshman quarterback that should be even better going forward and he will be helped by stellar recruiting classes that are building talent and depth in Chapel Hill.

So optimism is high at North Carolina. Here is a look at how the 2020 schedule shapes up and which teams will provide the biggest challenges in the season to come.

12. Sept. 19 vs. James Madison

Mike Houston may have left for East Carolina after the 2018 season, but the Dukes just kept on winning, going 14-2 and making the FCS title game. 1,200-yard rusher Percy Agyei-Obese returns, but JMU will have to replace quarterback Ben DiNucci.

11. Nov. 7 vs. Connecticut

A case can be made that Carolina will have an easier time with UConn than it will with James Madison. The Huskies' only FBS win in the past two years came against equally dreadful UMass and they have lost 15 games by at least 25 points during that time. But they have 10 starters back on defense, boast a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and have a legitimate pass-catching weapon.

10. Sept. 26 vs. Georgia Tech

Yellow Jackets head coach Geoff Collins needs some answers at quarterback and he is pinning his hopes on James Graham. The defense should be okay but the offense is still a long ways away.

9. Nov. 21 at Boston College

The Eagles no longer have running back AJ Dillon, are uncertain at quarterback, and ranked 125th in total defense last year. This will not be a quick fix for new head coach Jeff Hafley and his staff.

8. Oct. 17 at Duke

With Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph rushing the passer and a deep secondary, the Duke defense should be solid. They may lack some firepower on offense, but Clemson transfer Chase Brice may provide a spark at quarterback. Most importantly in this contest, it's Carolina-Duke.

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7. Nov. 27 vs. NC State

Similarly, the intensity often boils over when the Tar Heels and Wolfpack get together. Running back Donovan "Bam" Knight and wide receiver Emeka Emezie can play for anyone in the league, but Devin Leary has to improve at quarterback and the defense has many holes to fill.

6. Oct. 3 at Virginia

Whether Brennan Armstrong or Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson is taking snaps, the Virginia offense will look different without Bryce Perkins. This Cavaliers team will be fueled by Charles Snowden, Zane Zandier, and Joey Blount on what could be a suffocating defense.

5. Oct. 10 vs. Virginia Tech

The Hokies improved to eight wins in 2019 after a dysfunctional '18. Another step forward is not out of the question as Tech returns 19 starters, including emerging quarterback Hendon Hooker. There is also hope that Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert is what is need to improve the running game.

4. Nov. 14 vs. Pittsburgh

In what should be one of the more interesting matchups of the year, the potent Carolina offense will go up against a Pittsburgh defense that has the potential to be among the nation's best. Jaylen Twyman is an All-American candidate at defensive tackle, there are athletes on the edge, and the defensive backfield is talented and experienced.

3. Oct. 24 at Miami

Because this game is on the road, it is Carolina's toughest conference tilt. Defensive ends Gregory Rousseau Jr. and Temple transfer Quincy Roche are a pair of pass-rushing stars and quarterback D'Eriq King proved at Houston that he can produce big plays. The Hurricanes have the talent; it's just a matter of true belief as opposed to artificially produced bravado.

2. Sept. 4 vs. UCF

The Knights came up short in their bid for another New Year's Six bowl appearance last season and they will be motivated to right a wrong in 2020. With eight starters back on each side of the ball, led by rising sophomore Dillon Gabriel at quarterback, UCF may once again be the best Group of 5 team in the land.

1. Sept. 12 vs. Auburn (in Atlanta)

The Tigers lose seven starters off the defense and eight off the offense, but Gus Malzahn always recruits electric athletes to the Plains and Bo Nix is ready to take the next step at quarterback. Linebacker K.J. Britt will be the on-field leader for coordinator Kevin Steele's defense.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

(Top photo courtesy of @TarHeelFootball)