Everyone with even a passing interest in college football has a strong desire to see the 2020 season start on time. There are few fan bases that want this to happen more than those that cheer for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
First, the basketball season left a bitter taste in the mouths of all Tar Heel supporters. Plus, Mack Brown's first year back offered so much promise and Carolina returns emerging star Sam Howell at quarterback along with an exciting receiving group. Defensively, Jay Bateman's crew should be even better in year two with linebacker Chazz Surratt ready for a huge senior campaign.
While UNC faces two very stiff non-conference foes, the ACC slate is very favorable. Here's a look at how the 2020 schedule shapes up for the Heels.
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 — Sept. 4 at UCF (Orlando, Fla.)
North Carolina is accustomed to jumping right into the fire. The Tar Heels have opened with a Power 5 opponent in each of the last five seasons. While this year is different in that UCF is in the AAC, the Knights will again challenge for the Group of 5 New Year's Day bid.
Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Auburn (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
And it doesn't get any easier in week two. Gus Malzahn's team loses defensive stalwarts Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, and Jeremiah Dinson, but the offense hopes to improve with quarterback Bo Nix entering his sophomore season.
Week 3 — Sept. 19 vs. James Madison (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Finally, in week three, the Heels come home to play at Kenan Stadium. The Dukes will hardly be a pushover as they once again made the FCS title game, losing to North Dakota State 28-20, and losing a tight one at West Virginia to open the season. The JMU offense will be built around running back Percy Agyei-Obese.
Week 4 — Sept. 26 vs. Georgia Tech (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
The Yellow Jackets should be better in Geoff Collins' second season but how much so depends on James Graham's development at quarterback and the defense's ability to stop the run. Carolina beat Tech 38-22 in Atlanta last October due in large part to Javonte Williams' 144 rushing yards.
Week 5 — Oct. 3 at Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.)
The Cavaliers will probably take a step back without Bryce Perkins at quarterback. But head coach Bronco Mendenhall has developed a solid program, one that has gone to three straight bowl games, and they still can compete in the wide-open Coastal Division.
Week 6 — Oct. 10 vs. Virginia Tech (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
The Virginia portion of the schedule ends when the Hokies come to Chapel Hill. Last season’s six-overtime affair was a classic and this one could be another interesting clash with Howell and Hokie quarterback Hendon Hooker battling it out. The Virginia Tech defense will have a bit of a new look with Justin Hamilton replacing the retired Bud Foster.
Week 7 — Oct. 17 at Duke (Durham, N.C.)
This year's battle for the Victory Bell will be played in mid-October at Wallace-Wade Stadium. Despite having to find a replacement for quarterback Quentin Harris, the Blue Devils expect to have an improved offense in 2020, though much hinges on a young line.
Week 8 — Oct. 24 at Miami (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
Manny Diaz probably gets a bit of a pass for the Hurricanes' 6-7 record in his first season as head coach. But with Houston transfer D'Eriq King expected to solidify the quarterback position, a losing season will not be welcomed this time around. Diaz will have to find some answers on a defense that loses several impact players.
Week 10 — Nov. 7 vs. Connecticut (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
No longer a member of the AAC, UConn is now on their own as an independent. With just three wins over the past two seasons, the Huskies have been one of the worst FBS teams in America and their new football situation won't help Randy Edsall's program going forward.
Week 11 — Nov. 14 vs. Pittsburgh (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
In what could be one of the big Coastal Division games of the year, the Panthers will make the trek to Chapel Hill this November. Pitt should have one of the nation's best defenses with Jalen Twyman and Patrick Jones up front and Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin on the back end.
Week 12 — Nov. 21 at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)
New head coach Jeff Hafley brings a different vibe to Boston College and he will lean heavily on running back David Bailey. The biggest concern is rebuilding a defense that finished last in the ACC in yards allowed per game.
Week 13 — Nov. 27 vs. NC State (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
The Wolfpack ended the 2019 season with six straight losses, the last of which was a 41-10 drubbing in Raleigh by Carolina that made the Heels bowl eligible. As a result of last year's late-season troubles, this will be a big season for Pack head coach Dave Doeren.
— 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)