Aug. 30 – Liberty
Sept. 6 – San Diego State
Sept. 13 – open
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Sept. 20 – at East Carolina
Sept. 27 – at Clemson
Oct. 4 – Virginia Tech
Oct. 11 – at Notre Dame
Oct. 18 – Georgia Tech
Oct. 25 – at Virginia
Nov. 1 – at Miami
Nov. 8 – open
Nov. 15 – Pittsburgh
Nov. 20 – at Duke (Thursday, ESPN)
Nov. 29 – N.C. State
A couple of things immediately stick out:
--For one, UNC has just six home games. That puts the Tar Heels in the minority in the ACC. UNC, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Wake Forest all play six home games. Every other team in the league plays seven. The main difference here is that UNC plays two of its non-conference games on the road: at East Carolina and at Notre Dame. We all remember what happened the last time UNC played ECU, and playing at Notre Dame certainly isn’t easy.
--Second, UNC’s schedule features an increased emphasis on rivalry games. The Tar Heels’ game at Duke will be nationally-televised by ESPN on a Thursday night. When’s the last time UNC and Duke played on national TV in primetime in football? Has it ever happened? This is a good thing for both programs, as is the fact that Duke has made this a rivalry in football again during the past two seasons. Another good thing about the schedule: The N.C. State game is the season finale, and will be played on the same weekend as other rivalry games throughout the country. That’s the way it should be, and it’s a good move by the ACC. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, fans on both sides will look forward to the final weekend of the regular season.
Moving on, some team-by-team things to know about each of UNC’s opponents:
2013 record: 8-4 (4-1 Big South)
Things to know: Leading rusher Desmond Rice (80.5 yards per game) will be back, as will quarterback Josh Woodrum (215.1 passing yards per game) and all three of the Flames’ leading receivers. Three of the top six tacklers last season were seniors.
Way-too-early difficulty level (on a scale of 1 to 5, with one being the easiest): 1. The Flames look like a solid FCS team but UNC made quick work of Old Dominion, another solid FCS team, last November.
San Diego State
2013 record: 8-5 (6-2 Mountain West)
Things to know: Aztecs ranked 51st nationally in total offense and 53rd in total defense last season. Leading rusher Adam Muema (95.7 yards per game) decided to enter the NFL draft. QB Quinn Kaehler (250.6 yards passing per game) will be back. Leading WR Ezell Ruffin (87.3 yards per game) is also back. The team will have to replace all three of its top tacklers.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 3. Looks like the Aztecs have some good pieces coming back from a decent team, but this is long road trip for them.
2013 record: 10-3 (6-2 Conference USA)
Things to know: The Pirates ranked 25th nationally in total offense and 36th in total defense last season. They defeated UNC 55-31 in Chapel Hill. ECU will have to replace leading rusher Vintavious Cooper (91.8 yards per game) and its top two tacklers. QB Shane Carden and leading receiver Justin Hardy will both be back.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 4. The Pirates crushed UNC at Kenan Stadium, and Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be packed full of people hoping to see the same thing.
2013 record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)
Things to know: The Tigers ranked 10th nationally in total offense last season and 25th in total defense, but they’re losing a lot. All of the team’s offensive leaders – QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins and RB Roderick McDowell – are gone, as LB Spencer Shuey, the leading tackler. Still, Clemson isn’t without talent, even if some of it is unproven. UNC has lost its past three games at Clemson, and hasn’t won in Death Valley since 2001.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 5. Clemson is rebuilding but will still be formidable. And this is on the road.
2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
Things to know: The Hokies were abysmal offensively last season – they ranked 101st nationally in total offense – but they might benefit from the loss of erratic QB Logan Thomas. The team’s two leading rushers – Trey Edmunds (56.3 yards per game) will be back but the top two tacklers are gone. The back of the defense is in good shape with the return of Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who combined for 11 interceptions.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 4. The defense should still be good and the offense can only get better.
2013 record: 9-4
Things to know: Notre Dame was a mediocre 67th nationally in total offense last season, and 31st in total defense. Leading rusher Cam McDaniel (54.5 yards per game) will be back but Notre Dame will have to replace QB Tommy Rees (250.5 yards per game) and leading receiver T.J. Jones (85.2 yards per game). Defensively, three of the top four tacklers were seniors, inluding linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, both of whom had 90 tackles.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 5. The Fighting Irish are losing a lot of production. But it’s still Notre Dame. On the road. Touchdown Jesus and all that good stuff.
2013 record: 7-6 (5-3 ACC)
Things to know: The Yellow Jackets ranked 44th in total offense last season (6th in rushing offense) and 27th in total defense. Coach Paul Johnson will have to rebuild his option offense, though. Leading rusher David Sims (68 yards per game) is gone. As is Robert Godhigh (57.2 rushing yards per game). As is QB Vad Lee (39.5 yards per game). Defensively, the key losses are DB Jemea Thomas (88 tackles) and LBs Brandon Watts (66 tackles) and Jeremiah Attaochu (45 tackles, 12.5 sacks).
Way-too-early difficulty level: 4. It’d be lower but it’s Georgia Tech. And UNC has beaten Georgia Tech exactly twice since 1998.
2013 record: 2-10 (0-8)
Things to know: Virginia was pretty much awful last year and lost all six of its final games by double digits. That includes a 45-14 loss at UNC. The good news for the Cavaliers is that pretty much every skill player of significance from last season will be back next – and so Virginia can only get better, right? Right? UNC has won two in a row in Charlottesville.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 3. Again, the Cavaliers should be better next season but it’s impossible to say how much better. If they improve significantly, this could be a difficult game for the Tar Heels.
2013 record: 9-4 (5-3)
Things to know: The Hurricanes did a decent enough job offensively last season but shoring up a defense that ranked 89th nationally will be an off-season priority. RB Duke Johnson (115 rushing yards per game) is back and will be on plenty of preseason watch lists. He’s expected to miss spring practice, though, while rehabbing an ankle injury. Defensively, LB Denzel Perryman (108 tackles) and DT Anthony Chickillo (46 tackles) are both back, but there’s lots of work to be done on that side.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 4. Miami has plenty of talent, as usual. And, as usual, we have no idea what to expect from all that talent.
2013 record: 7-6 (4-3 ACC)
Things to know: The Panthers were bad offensively last season, and ranked 97th nationally there. They ranked 34th nationally in total defense, but Pitt is losing Aaron Donald, one of the best defensive lineman in the nation. He accounted for 59 tackles and 11 sacks last season. Pitt also must replace QB Tom Savage (227.5 passing yards per game) and WR Devin Street (85.4 receiving yards per game). WR Tyler Boyd, is averaged 90.3 receiving yards per game in his freshman season, is back.
Way-too-early difficultly level: 3. The Panthers have to address some major losses on both sides.
2013 record: 10-4 (6-2 ACC)
Things to know: The Blue Devils broke through and put together one of their best seasons in school history in 2013, and they nearly beat Texas A&M in a memorable Chick-fil-A Bowl. There’s reason to suspect that Duke will be even better in 2014, because it returns a lot: QB Anthony Boone, leading rusher Josh Snead, leading receivers Jamison Crowder and Braxton Deaver and its three leading tacklers.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 5. On paper, the game at Duke looks as difficult as any UNC will play next season. The Blue Devils just might enter the season as the favorite in the Coastal Division.
2013 record: 3-9 (0-8 ACC)
Things to know: Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Dave Doeren in his first season in Raleigh. N.C. State was awful in just about every aspect last season, and the Wolfpack didn’t take advantage of a favorable schedule. N.C. State ranked 70th in total offense and 61st in total defense, and the Wolfpack ended the season on an eight-game losing streak. Clearly, it will take a few recruiting cycles for Doeren to rebuild N.C. State. That said, Doeren has to be hoping that Jacoby Brissett, a transfer from Florida, is the answer at quarterback.
Way-too-early difficulty level: 3. And it’s only that high because this is a rivalry game.