North Carolina enters the fith season of Mack Brown’s second tenure in Chapel Hill with big expectations, spurred on by the return of a generational-type quarterback.
Drake Maye will in all likelihood be playing his final season in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels are trying to capitalize with their first ACC championship in 40 years. To reach their goals, they’ll have to navigate what Brown called “one of the toughest schedules in our school history.”
The part of the schedule that UNC was responsible for doesn’t do the Tar Heels any favors. They open against South Carolina, have App State in Week 2 before welcoming Big Ten foe Minnesota to Kenan Stadium in Week 3. That’s not exactly a schedule that allows for a team to make early mistakes.
The way the ACC scheduled the close of the season, Carolina can’t afford a slip up then, either. The Heels finish the regular season with Duke, Clemson and N.C. State. So on paper, their four straight losses to end the 2022 season will be a narrative that follows them into the 2023 season.
“They didn’t do us any favors, it’s really really difficult,” Brown said. “We start tough and we finish with an unbelievably tough schedule, so I’m disappointed. I told them I didn’t think it was fair. But it is what it is, and that’s what we got.”
Can’t miss game
UNC at Clemson, Nov. 18: A rematch of the 2022 ACC Championship game in which the Tar Heels inability to score touchdowns in the red zone led to a lopsided defeat. For Carolina to truly show improvement as a program, it has to win in situations like this game in Death Valley.
The last three weeks of the season, Carolina will play a rivalry game with Duke on Nov. 11, then play at Clemson on Nov. 18, before ending the regular season with another rivalry battle at N.C. State. On paper, it’s arguably the Heels’ biggest challenge for a three-game stretch since Brown returned in 2019.
That’s pretty hard to define with this schedule. Perhaps it’s when the Heels face Virginia on Oct. 21 before traveling to Georgia Tech on Oct. 28 and play out of conference against Campbell on Nov. 4. The irony of calling it an ‘easy stretch’ is that the Yellow Jackets have beaten the Heels the past two seasons despite having a squad that led to the firing of Geoff Collins as head coach. And the Cavaliers came within three points of beating the Heels last season.
Notable nonconference game
UNC vs South Carolina, Sept. 2: When the Heels rallied to beat the Gamecocks in the 2019 season opener, it immediately raised expectations for Brown’s second tenure in Chapel Hill. A win to kick off the 2023 season would be a much-needed salvo to the almighty SEC and set the tone for the potential of this team.
Filled with intrigue
App State at UNC, Sept. 9: It’s the kind of matchup that will quickly be a thing of the past for all ACC schools, as they are moving toward eliminating Group of Five opponents from the schedule. Last year’s meeting in Boone became an instant classic before the Heels pulled out an exhausting 63-61 victory. The Mountaineers won in Chapel Hill in 2019. It’s a game that will raise eyebrows in state, but won’t attract much attention nationally.
UNC football schedule
at Georgia Tech
at NC State