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Can Mack Brown have a winning season? A game-by-game look at UNC’s football schedule.

Mack in a Minute

For returning Tar Heel football coach Mack Brown the ACC Football Kickoff is a full day of talking
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For returning Tar Heel football coach Mack Brown the ACC Football Kickoff is a full day of talking

North Carolina is on a mission to turn around its football program. Four years ago, in 2015, the Tar Heels won the ACC Coastal Division.

After going 8-5 in 2016 followed by two dismal seasons -- 3-9 in 2017 and 2-9 in 2018 -- that title season seems long ago.

Tar Heels’ coach Mack Brown, who was hired in November to replace a fired Larry Fedora, will be tasked with rebuilding the program and getting it back into the national spotlight. Brown has already picked up some key recruits, including class of 2020 four-stars defensive end Myles Murphy and safety Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, but with a defense that lost several key players from last season’s team, can he win this year?

UNC’s 2019 schedule seems to line up in its favor, with the majority of its toughest games -- including against Clemson -- at home. But first up is South Carolina in Charlotte.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of UNC’s 2019 football schedule.

vs. South Carolina

When: Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte

Watch: ESPN

Coach: Will Muschamp is entering his fourth season at South Carolina, where he’s 22-17.

Muschamp was defensive coordinator at Texas under Brown from 2008 to 2010, and was expected to succeed him there before he became head coach at Florida in 2011.

2018 record: 7-6, 4-4 SEC. The Gamecocks finished fifth in the SEC East last season.

Key returners: QB Jake Bentley (3,171 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs), WR Bryan Edwards (55 rec, 846 yards, 7 TDs), LB T.J. Brunson (106 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks)

Key loss: WR Deebo Samuel (62 rec, 882 yards, 11 TDs)

Concern or optimism?: The Tar Heels are 1-11 in season-openers against Power 5 opponents over the past 22 years. Their last win against a Power 5 opponent came against Indiana in 1997, Brown’s final year in his first coaching stint at UNC.

This will be one of the most important games of the season for the Tar Heels. It’s Brown’s first game with UNC in 22 years, and the result could set the tone for the rest of the season, just as it did last year.

UNC turned the ball over four times and lost to California 24-17 in the season-opening game in 2018, and went on to finish the season 2-9.

UNC will be at a slight disadvantage against South Carolina. Two of the Tar Heels’ potential key starters -- linebacker Dominique Ross and cornerback Patrice Rene -- will miss half of the game. The two were suspended by the ACC at the end of last season for their involvement in a fight at the end of the UNC’s game against N.C. State on Nov. 24.

Rene is UNC’s top cornerback, and Ross started eight games at linebacker in 2018.

Miami

When: Sept. 7, 8 p.m.

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Watch: ACC Network

Coach: Manny Diaz, Miami’s defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, will be in his first year as head coach.

Diaz was also defensive coordinator at Texas under Brown from 2011 to 2013. But after his defense gave up 550 rushing yards in a game against Brigham Young in 2013, Diaz was fired.

2018 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC. After winning the ACC Coastal Division in 2017, the Hurricanes finished third last season.

Key returners: WR Jeff Thomas (35 rec, 563 yards, 4 total TDs), LB Shaquille Quarterman (76 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF), LB Michael Pinckney (74 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT).

Key losses: DE Joe Jackson (47 tackles, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD), DB Jaquan Johnson (79 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF)

Concern or optimism?: While the Hurricanes struggled last season, they beat the Tar Heels 47-10 in a Thursday night game on national television on Sept. 27. A big reason for that loss was turnovers. UNC turned the ball over six times and dug itself an early hole.

This will mark the first home game of the season for UNC, which Brown says he’s excited about.

UNC is 2-3 in its last five games against Miami.

at Wake Forest

When: Sept. 13, 6 p.m.

Where: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem

Watch: ESPN

Coach: Dave Clawson has been head coach at Wake Forest since 2014 and has a 28-35 overall record. He has finished with a winning record in each of his last three seasons.

2018 record: 7-6, 3-5 ACC. Wake Forest finished tied for fifth place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

Key returners: RB Cade Carney (1,005 rushing yards, 8 TDs), LB Justin Strnad (105 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections).

Key losses: WR Greg Dortch (89 rec, 1,078 yards, 10 total TDs), DL Willie Yarbary (53 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks)

Concern or optimism? In 2015, the two schools announced they would play two non-conference games against each other over the next six years. One is scheduled for this season, and the other will be in 2021.

Because the two teams are in different divisions, they play a conference game once every seven years. Playing against each other in games that are considered non-conference allows them to match up more frequently.

UNC is 5-5 against Wake Forest since 2000. During Brown’s first tenure at UNC from 1988 to 1997, the Tar Heels had an 8-2 record against the Demon Deacons. And Brown’s teams won each of their last eight matchups.

This game was recently moved from Thursday night to Friday night.

Appalachian State

When: Sept. 21, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Watch: Fox Sports South

Coach: Eliah Drinkwitz was N.C. State’s offensive coordinator the past three seasons before being hired by App. State in December. This is his first head coaching job.

2018 record: 11-2. Appalachian State won its third consecutive conference championship in 2018 under Scott Satterfield, who’s now head coach at Louisville.

Key returners: RB Darrynton Evans (1,187 rushing yards, 8 total TDs), QB Zac Thomas (2,039 passing yards, 21 passing TDs, 9 INTs, 504 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs, 1 receiving TD), WR Corey Sutton (44 rec, 773 yards, 10 TDs).

Key losses: LB Anthony Flory (95 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 1 FF, 1 FR).

Concern or optimism? Since entering the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Sun Belt conference, App. State had improved each year under Satterfield. One of its two losses last season was a 45-38 overtime loss to then-No. 9 Penn State on the road.

Drinkwitz finds himself in a good situation with many returning playmakers on offense and defense. However, he has no prior head coaching experience.

UNC and App. State have only faced each other once, in 1940. UNC won 56-6.

Clemson

When: Sept. 28

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Coach: Dabo Swinney has been among the nation’s best coaches in recent years. He has a 116-30 record at Clemson.

2018 record: 15-0, 9-0 ACC, The Tigers beat Alabama, 44-16, to win the national championship on Jan. 7.

Key returners: QB Trevor Lawrence (3,280 passing yards, 30 TDs, 4 INTs), RB Travis Etienne (1,658 rushing yards, 26 total TDs), WR Tee Higgins (59 rec, 936 yards, 12 TDs), WR Justyn Ross (46 rec, 1,000 yards, 9 TDs), LB Isaiah Simmons (88 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF, 6 PD, 1 TD).

Key losses: DE Clelin Ferrell (55 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD), DT Christian Wilkins (51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), DE Austin Bryant (45 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks).

Concern or optimism? It’s almost unfair the amount of talent that is returning to Clemson this season, especially on offense. On Tuesday, Clemson had 13 players -- eight on offense -- named to the preseason All-ACC team.

There were 27 total ACC players from offense, defense and special teams named to the All-ACC team.

Clemson went undefeated last season, and thumped Alabama in the national championship game 44-16. Lawrence, who will be a sophomore this season, was picked as the preseason ACC Player of the Year.

UNC is 2-8 in its last 10 games against Clemson. The one positive for UNC is this game is in Chapel Hill.

at Georgia Tech

When: Oct. 5

Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

Coach: Geoff Collins coached at Temple from 2017 to 2018. His team finished 8-4 last season, and 7-1 in the American Conference.

Record last season: 7-6, 5-3 ACC. The Yellow Jackets finished second in the Coastal Division.

Key returners: RB Jordan Mason (659 rushing yards, 7 TDs).

Key losses: QB TaQuon Marshall (971 rushing yards, 15 total TDs), DE Anree Saint-Amour (47 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 INTs).

Concern or optimism? The good news for UNC is that it won’t have to worry about Paul Johnson’s option-based offense. Under Collins, the Yellow Jackets will play with an entirely new offense this season.

The Tar Heels had a chance to beat Georgia Tech last season, with the game tied in the fourth quarter. But the Tar Heels ended up losing 38-28.

UNC is 3-2 in its last five meetings with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have won the last two.

at Virginia Tech

When: Oct. 19

Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

Coach: Justin Fuente has coached the past three seasons at Virginia Tech. He has a 25-15 record and was ACC Coach of the Year in 2016.

2018 record: 6-7, 4-4 ACC. The Hokies finished tied for fourth in the Coastal Division standings.

Key returners: QB Ryan Willis (2,716 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs), WR Damon Hazelton Jr. (51 rec, 802 yards, 8 TDs).

Key losses: RB Steven Peoples (786 rushing yards, 7 total TDs)

Concern or optimism? If there was one game UNC all but won last year, it was their game against the Hokies. The Tar Heels led for the entire second half until the final 19 seconds of the game.

After UNC fumbled on Virginia Tech’s two-yard line, the Hokies marched 98 yards down field in 18 plays and scored a touchdown to win 22-19.

UNC has lost three consecutive games against Virginia Tech, including seven of its last 10.

Duke

When: Oct. 26

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Coach: David Cutcliffe is entering his 12th season at Duke, where he is 111-101. In the four seasons prior to Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke was 4-42.

2018 record: 8-5, 3-5 ACC

The Blue Devils played well in the early part of the 2018 season, but struggled in the conference.

Key returners: RB Deon Jackson (1,100 yards from scrimmage, 9 total TDs, first-team All-ACC), DE Victor Dimukeje (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF).

Key losses: QB Daniel Jones (2,674 passing yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs), Joe Giles-Harris (81 tackles, 7 tackles for loss).

Concern or optimism? UNC couldn’t stop Daniel Jones last season. He ran and passed for 547 total yards in a 42-35 win over the Tar Heels. But Jones is no longer on the team. He was picked sixth in the 2019 NFL draft by the New York Giants.

The Blue Devils were picked to finish fifth in the 2019 ACC Coastal Division standings.

The Duke-UNC series is 5-5 in the last 10 games. However, Duke has won the last three.

Virginia

When: Nov. 2

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall is entering his fourth season as the Cavaliers’ head coach. He has a 16-22 record in three years, but the Cavaliers have improved each year.

2018 record: 8-5, 4-4 ACC.

Key returners: QB Bryce Perkins (2,680 passing yards, 25 TDs, 9 INTs, 923 rushing yards 9 rushing TDs), CB Bryce Hall (62 tackles, 22 pass breakups, 2 INTs).

Key losses: HB Olamide Zaccheaus (1,058 receiving yards, 9 TDs), RB Jordan Ellis (1,026 rushing yards, 10 TDs).

Concern or optimism? Bryce Perkins is a problem for opposing teams and so is Bryce Hall. Perkins had 329 total yards and 4 touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing) against the Tar Heels’ defense last season.

Aside from stopping Perkins, the Tar Heels played well on the road. Against a good team, they kept the game within reach, but faltered at the end, which was a common theme in 2018.

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio previews the ACC Coastal Division before the start of the 2019 college football season. In the last six years there have been six different division winners. Will Virginia make it seven?

UVA was picked to finish first in the ACC Coastal Division with their two top stars returning this season. However, the Cavaliers will have to make up for the loss of two key weapons in Zaccheaus and Ellis.

In the “South’s Oldest Rivalry,” the Tar Heels have won seven of the last 10 matchups, with the Wahoos winning the last two.

at Pittsburgh

When: Nov. 14, 8 p.m.

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

Watch: ESPN

Coach: Pat Narduzzi is entering his fifth season at Pitt, where he has a 28-24 record.

2018 record: 7-7, 6-2 ACC.

Key returners: WR/KR Maurice Ffrench (547 receiving yards, 6 receiving TDs, 2 rushing TDs, 2 kick return TDs), DB Dane Jackson (47 tackles, 4 FFs, 14 pass breakups).

Key losses: RB Qadree Ollison (1,213 rushing yards, 11 TDs), RB Darrin Hall Jr. (1,144 rushing yards, 10 TDs).

Concern or optimism? It doesn’t matter whether UNC is having a bad season and Pitt is having a good season, as was the case in 2018. It seems UNC has Pitt’s number. UNC is 10-3 overall against Pitt and has won the last six matchups.

Narduzzi is coming off his most successful season after winning the ACC Coastal Division in 2018. But the Coastal Division has had six different winners in the past six years.

Ollison and Hall helped give Pitt the 18th best rushing attack in the nation in 2018. Now the Panthers will have to make up for that loss.

Mercer

When: Nov. 23

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Coach: Bobby Lamb is entering his sixth season as the head coach at Mercer, where he has a 37-31 record.

2018 record: 5-6

Key returners: RB Tyray Devezin (926 rushing yards, 8 TDs).

Key losses: WR Marquis Irvin (814 receiving yards, 5 TDs).

Concern or optimism? Mercer, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program, wasn’t very good last season. The Bears finished 5-6 and tied for fifth place in the Southern Conference. Their opponents averaged 32.4 points per game last season.

This is expected to be a tune-up game for UNC before its regular season finale against N.C. State.

at NC State

When: Nov. 30

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh

Coach: Dave Doeren is entering his seventh season with the Wolfpack, where he has a 43-34 record. He has led N.C. State to five consecutive bowl games.

2018 record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC

Key returners: WR Emeka Emezie (53 rec, 616 receiving yards, 5 TDs), LB Jairus Morehead (81 tackles, 3 INTs), DE James Smith-Williams (40 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks).

Key losses: QB Ryan Finley (3,928 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), RB Reggie Gallaspy II (1,091 rushing yards, 19 total TDs), WR Kelvin Harmon (81 rec, 1,186 receiving yards, 7 TDs).

Concern or optimism? The Wolfpack has won four of its past five games against the Tar Heels.

But with Cade Fortin starting at quarterback for UNC in the 2018 season finale, the Tar Heels had a chance to win but lost 34-28 in overtime.

RAL_STATEUNC02-112418-EDH.jpg
North Carolina quarterback Cade Fortin (6) prepares to pass during the first half of N.C. State’s game against UNC at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

A fight broke out in the end zone on the game-winning touchdown, which led to the suspensions this season.

N.C. State’s biggest question on offense is whether Matt McKay or another quarterback can step in and replace the production Finley gave.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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