My colleague and The News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock wrote a good column that ran today, a column about how, basically, North Carolina's game at East Carolina on Saturday could be the most important of Larry Fedora's tenure at UNC.
There have been some games against better teams, perhaps. At South Carolina to start last season. Against Duke a season ago. At Louisville in 2012.
But you could make an argument – a good argument, I'd argue – the game Saturday is the most important of Fedora's time with the Tar Heels. How badly does UNC need to beat the Pirates? Consider the following:
--For starters, UNC endured a humiliating 55-31 defeat against the Pirates last season. The Tar Heels are still 11-3-1 in the series, and they've never lost consecutive games against ECU.
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--The Tar Heels are 3-4 against in-state FBS opponents under Fedora. Two victories against N.C. State and one victory against ECU (2012) and losses against Duke (twice), ECU and Wake Forest (in 2012).
--And, perhaps most important, the schedule doesn't get any easier. After the trip to Greenville, UNC travels to Clemson, hosts Virginia Tech and then travels to Notre Dame.
So it's an important game for the purposes of maintaining superiority in the series, and of achieving some sense of vengeance. It's an important game because Fedora needs to improve his record against the in-state teams he recruits most fiercely against. And it's important game, most of all, in the context of this season.
If the Tar Heels lose on Saturday, the question becomes when they stand the best chance of winning again? At Clemson? Against Virginia Tech? At Notre Dame? The three-game stretch that follows the ECU game has to be among the most difficult in the country. Include the game on Saturday, and this four-game stretch only becomes more menacing.
The next four games represent the most difficult portion of UNC's schedule. The portion that will define the Tar Heels' season. As Luke wrote in his column, Fedora said before the season that “it's time.” Time for his program to take the next step. Time for it to make a move in the wide open Coastal Division.
The time has come now, too, for the Tar Heels to show if they're ready. If they do, on Saturday, they might just wind up with their best victory under Fedora.
Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewcarter .