North Carolina will begin the 2016 regular season with a nationally-televised game against Georgia in Atlanta and end it with a Friday game against rival N.C. State. In between there are no shortage of challenges for the Tar Heels.
Let’s get to it. Some thoughts and analysis after the release on Tuesday of UNC’s football schedule:
On paper this looks like a far more difficult schedule than UNC faced a season ago. There’s a “neutral-site” game against Georgia at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta, about an hour away from Georgia’s campus. The Tar Heels’ non-rival Atlantic Division crossover game, which was at home against Wake Forest last season, is at Florida State. The trip to Miami, never all that difficult a place to play, should be more challenging in Mark Richt’s first season. And then UNC plays two important divisional games, against Georgia Tech and Duke, in the span of six days in early November.
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Mark your calendars
Sept. 3 vs. Georgia in Atlanta: For the second consecutive season UNC begins the season in a marquee, nationally-televised game against an SEC opponent. UNC and Georgia will be playing for the first time since the 1971 Gator Bowl.
Oct. 1 at Florida State: UNC is 1-7-1 all-time in Tallahassee but the victory came in 2010, its most recent trip down, in a dramatic 37-35 win that wasn’t decided until Florida State missed a field goal in the final seconds.
Nov. 25 vs. N.C. State: The Tar Heels and Wolfpack will play at Kenan Stadium on a Friday in the first non-Saturday game between the teams since 1999 – a 10-6 UNC victory in Charlotte.
October appears to be the most difficult month of UNC’s schedule. Three of the Tar Heels’ four games are on the road, and their first three games of the month will be especially difficult. UNC begins October like so: at Florida State, at home against Virginia Tech and then at Miami. Those three games include UNC’s most difficult game of the season followed by two important Coastal Division games. UNC ends the month with a trip to Virginia. By the end of October we’ll know whether UNC is in position to repeat as Coastal Division champions.
What to like
For one, you have to like that UNC isn’t afraid to begin the season with a challenge. The Tar Heels did it last season in Charlotte against a South Carolina team that turned out to be far worse than expected, and one that fell apart after Steve Spurrier retired in the middle of the season. This year, the Tar Heels begin with Georgia in Atlanta. That shows that UNC isn’t afraid of challenging itself outside of the conference with games it knows it might lose. The crossover game at Florida State is attractive, as well, and UNC fans will like that the Tar Heels begin conference play at home for once, on Sept. 24 against Pittsburgh. Putting the regular season finale against N.C. State on a Friday adds some intrigue to that rivalry, too.
What to dislike
The three-game stretch at Florida State, at home against Virginia Tech and then at Miami could be one of the more difficult three-week stretches any ACC team endures. But every team has its challenging parts of the schedule. UNC’s home schedule isn’t all that attractive, with two of the six games at Kenan Stadium against FCS teams. And you can be sure that critics of UNC’s schedule will be quick to point out that the Tar Heels again are playing two FCS opponents – James Madison (Sept. 17) and the Citadel (Nov. 19).
If the Tar Heels find themselves in the College Football Playoff discussion late next season, as they did last season, critics likely won’t be able to hold the two FCS opponents against them – not after games against Georgia and Florida State.
3 at Georgia
10 at Illinois
17 James Madison
1 at Florida State
8 Virginia Tech
15 at Miami
22 at Virginia
5 Georgia Tech
10 at Duke
19 The Citadel
25 N.C. State