UNC Now

Can UNC get to a bowl game? Win the Coastal? An analysis of the rest of its schedule.

North Carolina (3-3) needs three more wins to become bowl eligible, and with six games left on its schedule, that should be possible.

If they win the rest of their games, the Tar Heels would even win the Coastal Division.

Considering the Tar Heels were 5-18 combined in 2017 and 2018, the possibility of a bowl game and division title is impressive. Credit UNC coach Mack Brown, who before the season, said he planned to win right away and send his seniors out on a high note.

The 2019 UNC team has a belief that the 2018 UNC team did not. The Tar Heels opened this season 2-0 with two-fourth quarter comebacks. On Sept. 28, the Tar Heels were a two-point conversion away from upsetting then-No. 1 Clemson.

But none of that will matter if the Tar Heels don’t win at least three more games.

The Tar Heels are done with the toughest part of their schedule.

Three of their first six opponents — Clemson, Wake Forest and App State — are undefeated. UNC’s remaining opponents have a combined 19-13 record.

Here is a breakdown of the rest of UNC’s regular season:

at Virginia Tech

When: Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

Watch: Fox Sports South

Coach: Justin Fuente

Record: 3-2, 1-2 ACC

Players to watch: QB Hendon Hooker (192 passing yards, 3 passing TDs, 0 INTs, 72 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD), LB Rayshard Ashby (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks).

Concern or optimism? Optimism because Virginia Tech is one of the worst teams in the country in taking care of the football. The Hokies have 11 turnovers (six fumbles and five interceptions) through five games this season.

If the Tar Heels can force a couple of turnovers, and win the turnover battle, this should be a fairly easy one. Virginia Tech was pounded by Duke on Sept. 28, 45-10. The following week, the Hokies picked up their first ACC win, a 42-35 victory over Miami. This, though, after starting the game with a 28-0 lead.

Duke

When: Oct. 26

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Coach: David Cutcliffe

Record: 3-2, 1-1 ACC

Players to watch: QB Quentin Harris (1,007 passing yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs, 342 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs) RB Deon Jackson (292 rushing yards, 111 receiving yards, 5 total TDs), the Duke offensive line (has allowed only four sacks in five games).

Concern or optimism? Concern because anything can happen in a rivalry game. Just look at the last 10 games between UNC and Duke. The two teams have split the series 5-5.

But optimism, because after beating Virginia Tech 45-10, the Blue Devils lost a wacky one to Pitt, 33-30. The Blue Devils turned the ball over a season-high six times. UNC is 2-2 at home this season. The Tar Heels’ two home losses — Clemson and App State — were by a combined four points.

No. 20 Virginia

When: Nov. 2

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Watch: TBD

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall

Record: 4-1, 2-0 ACC

Players to watch: QB Bryce Perkins (1,177 passing yards, 8 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 164 rushing yards 2 rushing TDs), LB Zan Zandier (37 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD).

Concern or optimism? UVA’s strength this season has been its defense. The Cavaliers are ranked 13th in the country in total defense (279.6 yards per game).

This game has optimism written all over it, though. The Cavaliers’ defense is not creating many turnovers. Through five games, Virginia has forced only five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble). Also, quarterback Bryce Perkins, who was so good against the Tar Heels last year (329 total yards and 4 touchdowns), has struggled at times this season. He has three games this season with two interceptions. UVA has turned the ball over 11 times this year.

at Pittsburgh

When: Nov. 14, 8 p.m.

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

Watch: ESPN

Coach: Pat Narduzzi

Record: 4-2, 1-1 ACC

Players to watch: WR/KR Maurice Ffrench (50 catches, 396 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs), WR Taysir Mack (41 catches, 511 receiving yards, 2 TDs).

Concern or optimism? In recent years, UNC has had Pitt’s number. UNC is 10-3 overall against Pitt and has won the last six matchups.

But at some point a streak has to end, right? This game is dangerous because it is on the road, and UNC’s secondary is thin because of injuries. Five of Pitt’s six games have been decided by 10 points or less. The Panthers are 4-1 in those games. Their only loss was to then-No. 13 Penn State 17-10.

Mercer

When: Nov. 23

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Watch: TBD

Coach: Bobby Lamb

Record: 2-4

Players to watch: RB/KR Deondre Johnson (423 rushing yards, three rushing TDs, 1 kick return TD.

Concern or optimism? Optimism because Mercer is a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program that the Tar Heels should beat. Mercer has lost four straight after winning its first two games this season. Quarterback Robert Riddle has thrown an interception in every game this season, so don’t expect that to change against UNC.

at N.C. State

When: Nov. 30

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh

Watch: TBD

Coach: Dave Doeren

Record: 3-2, 0-1 ACC

Players to watch: DT Larrell Murchison (21 tackles, 5 sacks) WR Emeka Emezie (28 rec, 281 receiving yards, 1 TDs).

Concern or optimism? Mainly optimism, because the Wolfpack is struggling this season. Its three wins were against East Carolina, Western Carolina and Ball State. Its two losses to West Virginia and Florida State were by a combined 35 points. N.C. State also doesn’t have a solid answer at quarterback after benching Matt McKay against Florida State.

Last season, the Tar Heels lost to the Wolfpack 34-28 in overtime. They’ll likely want this one bad.

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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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