Mack Brown knows that building North Carolina is going to be quite a process. The Tar Heels are coming off consecutive nine-loss seasons and the talent level is not ready to compete with the big boys in the ACC. And even if it was, there’s the schedule. That ugly, murderous schedule.
Besides the regular Coastal Division opponents and the natural crossover with NC State, UNC will face an ACC opponent in a non-conference game, an SEC foe, one of the best Group of 5 teams in America, and the defending national champs. Undoubtedly, they can’t wait for that game with Mercer in November.
Here are some thoughts on that brutal slate.
North Carolina Tar Heels’ 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 7, Week 11
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. South Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)
Like they did in 2015, the Heels and the Gamecocks will open the season by playing in Charlotte. Do-everything wide receiver Deebo Samuel is gone, but Jake Bentley will work with a talented pass-catching duo in Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Miami (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
In their second game, the Heels get one of the Coastal contenders when the Hurricanes come to Kenan Stadium. Miami has a familiar face in former defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Manny Diaz and should have a solid defense led by linebackers Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud.
Week 3 — Sept. 12 at Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
On a Thursday night, Carolina and Wake will meet up in a non-conference tilt. Because the two programs are not natural crossover rivals, games between the two are few and far between. So to continue the rivalry, the schools agreed to home-and-home non-conference games.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 vs. Appalachian State (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Finally, in the fourth game, North Carolina will play a Group of 5 team. But it's a G5 team that went 11-2 last year and returns virtually its entire offense and four of the top five tacklers. Last year in week one, the Mountaineers took Penn State to overtime before falling short.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Clemson (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Somebody from the Coastal had to draw Clemson and this year it’s the Heels. The last meeting between the two programs was the conference championship game in 2015 where the Tigers squeezed out a 45-37 victory that propelled them into the College Football Playoff.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 at Georgia Tech (Atlanta)
The change in Georgia Tech’s offensive scheme will be the team’s most radical difference heading into 2019. But new head coach Geoff Collins is a defensive guy and that side of the ball will have to endure the loss of its top three tacklers as well as the unit’s most disruptive presence in end Anree Saint-Amour.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Hokies return more starters than any other team in the conference. Defensive tackle Ricky Walker will be missed and the offensive line will need to be pieced together. But if head coach Justin Fuente gets Virginia Tech back on course, the Hokies could be the team to beat in the division.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Duke (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
The battle for the Victory Bell has come at different parts of the season in recent years. Two years ago, it was in September. Last year, back to its usual spot in November. This year it falls right in the middle of the season. Replacing Daniel Jones will be important, but losing Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris off the defense also has to be concerning for Devils coach David Cutcliffe.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 vs. Virginia (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Before last season, Bronco Mendenhall said that his Virginia team only had 27 ACC-level players. But somehow they won eight games, one of which was a Belk Bowl victory over South Carolina. In 2019, star receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and defensive stalwart Juan Thornhill are gone, but Mendenhall will have quarterback Bryce Perkins around to guide the offense.
Week 12 — Nov. 14 at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh)
After a difficult start, Pat Narduzzi’s team won four consecutive ACC games in late October and early November, including three against Coastal rivals, and claimed the division championship. With an offense that loses both running backs, the leading receiver and key members of the line, repeating will be a challenge.
Week 13 — Nov. 21 vs. Mercer (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Mercer dropped football in 1941 and did not bring it back until 2013. In the six seasons since the program’s return, the Bears from the FCS ranks have played three games against FBS opponents, with their best showing coming in a 24-10 loss at Auburn in 2017.
Week 14 — Nov. 28 at NC State (Raleigh, N.C.)
Mack Brown lost to the Wolfpack the first five times he faced them as the head coach of the Heels, then won the last five meetings. The momentum has swung back to NC State in recent years as the boys from Raleigh have won nine of the last 12 games in this rivalry, including the last three.
— 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)