Not many breaks went North Carolina’s way last season. Injuries were crippling right from the opening of camp and a poor start sent things spiraling in the wrong direction.
The good news is that the Heels seem to catch a bit of good luck with their 2018 schedule. They do start with two games on the road 3,000 miles apart and they do host UCF. But California is the biggest Power 5 non-conference opponent, they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home, and they avoid the Atlantic powers in crossover games.
Here is a ranking of the toughest games on UNC’s 2018 schedule.
12. Nov. 17 vs. Western Carolina
Though UNC won only three games in 2017, one of them was a 65-10 pounding of the Catamounts in the season’s next-to-last weekend. Count on this being déjà vu all over again.
11. Sept 8 at East Carolina
The Pirates have two Coastal division opponents in a row as they go Blacksburg the following week. In a big year for head coach Scottie Montgomery, playing two ACC teams may not be the best thing.
10. Oct. 27 at Virginia
The Cavaliers will have a strong secondary, but this is a good matchup for Carolina. The Tar Heels have questions surrounding their run defense but UVA has a suspect ground game.
9. Oct. 20 at Syracuse
Dino Babers knows how to create offense but the Orange defense has been shaky since he has arrived. Losing the combined 199 tackles of linebackers Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin won’t help this year’s cause.
8. Sept. 22 vs. Pittsburgh
Quarterback Kenny Pickett hopes to energize the passing attack and should build off a solid junior season. Defensively, the Panthers return seven starters. Six of those are in the front seven but corners Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford were highly touted recruits coming into Pitt.
7. Sept. 1 at California
When the Bears lost their last two games by three points each, they fell to 5-7 and narrowly missed out on bowl season. With 17 starters back, Justin Wilcox’s crew should reach the postseason for the first time in three years, which would be just their third bowl appearance this decade.
6. Nov. 10 at Duke
After winning 21 of 22 meetings, Carolina has dropped four of the last six to its archrivals. Quarterback Daniel Jones has some good skill position players to work with and the Devils have two stars on defense in linebacker Joe Giles-Harris and cornerback Mark Gilbert.
5. Nov. 24 vs. NC State
Despite the poor results last season, UNC never quit fighting as evidenced by the fact that the Heels hung with a good Wolfpack squad in last year’s final game. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley and many of his top receiving targets return, but head coach Dave Doeren will have to revamp the defense.
4. Sept. 15 vs. UCF
Scott Frost is no longer the head coach, but quarterback McKenzie Milton is still around to create problems. Milton will have plenty of skill position help, but the defensive front seven has some major holes to fill and cornerback Mike Hughes will be sorely missed.
3. Oct. 13 vs. Virginia Tech
UNC gets a talented Hokies team in a perfect spot. Carolina has 15 days off leading into the contest while Virginia Tech hosts Notre Dame in a big showdown at Lane Stadium the week before.
2. Nov. 3 vs. Georgia Tech
This is actually a tricky game for the Yellow Jackets, who play Virginia Tech the week prior with Miami next up on the schedule. Unless North Carolina can shore up its run defense, Paul Johnson’s option attack could give the Heels problems.
1. Sept. 27 at Miami
There isn’t a whole lot to like about this match p. It’s a short week, on the road, against the best team in the division. Making matters worse is that UNC has a tough game with Pittsburgh on Sept. 22 while Miami hosts FIU.
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-- Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.