Luke DeCock

DeCock: No slowing Tar Heels’ march on Charlotte, beyond

With a secure 52-14 lead over the Miami Hurricanes at the start of the fourth quarter of play, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams (12) and Ryan Switzer (3) celebrate with the student section at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
With a secure 52-14 lead over the Miami Hurricanes at the start of the fourth quarter of play, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams (12) and Ryan Switzer (3) celebrate with the student section at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Yet again, Larry Fedora and the North Carolina players insisted they weren’t trying to make a statement to anyone, least of all the College Football Playoff’s selection committee. And yet they keep doing it, week after week after week.

The Tar Heels, ranked 23rd in last week’s playoff rankings, utterly dismantled Miami, jumping out to a 45-point lead before cruising home to a 59-21 win. Undefeated at home, winners of nine straight, one win or one Pittsburgh loss from the Coastal Division title, the Tar Heels can seemingly do no wrong at this point.

And yet they still can seemingly garner little respect, in part because of the visibility of that bizarre opening loss to South Carolina, in part because they went seven weeks without facing a bowl-bound team. That’s all in the past now: Over the past three weeks, against Pittsburgh, Duke and Miami, the Tar Heels outscored the opposition 151-71.

How costly that opening loss to South Carolina has become, and yet the Tar Heels are doing everything in their power to make up for it. They called this “History Week,” with a chance to win nine straight in one season for the first time since 1894, to go 7-0 for the second time ever, to win more than eight games for the first time since 1997, but there’s potentially more history to be written.

“Our winning, that’s making a statement,” said UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, who accounted for four touchdowns. “You can’t take away from winning football games. That’s what we’re doing, we’re having fun doing it and we’re putting up a lot of numbers. Defense is playing great. Eventually, you have to respect our football team.”

Williams has that right about the defense. If first-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik doesn’t win the Broyles Award that goes to the best assistant coach in college football, they might as well stop giving the thing out. The 180 degree turnaround of North Carolina’s defense from last season approaches an according-to-Hoyle miracle.

It’s the opposite of what has happened to Miami, a program that has truly lost its way and become a sad parody of itself: all of the arrogance, none of the competence. The Hurricanes have never been less relevant in the national football picture, perhaps too toxic for even Butch Davis to touch.

What a bill of goods Miami sold the ACC back in 2003. First, it joined the league at the same moment its football program collapsed into mediocrity. (The ACC waited so long for a Miami-Florida State championship game that it ended up moving the game out of Florida, finally.) Then, Miami actually won a basketball title, to the old guard’s chagrin. The tally of Coastal champions is The Rest of the Division 4, Miami never.

The ACC’s convoluted bowl process might actually allow the Hurricanes to leapfrog Duke or N.C. State into one of the four Tier I bowls, if some deluded bowl executive thinks Miami’s brand still has any value. Lame-duck interim coaches end their tenures in Shreveport among the other dead-enders pumping quarters into slots and chain-smoking, or at least that should be the rule.

There were scouts from the Peach Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl in attendance Saturday, which shows they’re paying attention to North Carolina. The CFP-affiliated Peach would be the Tar Heels’ likely destination as ACC champions, in the absence of enough chaos elsewhere to open the door to a national semifinal spot. Orlando, the ACC’s top non-CFP bowl, would be a logical spot after a loss to Clemson in Charlotte. Either would be a tremendous accomplishment.

“We, as seniors, talked about legacy a lot this year,” North Carolina wide receiver Quinshad Davis said. “We wanted to leave ours here at Kenan. I feel like we did that. A lot of guys made a lot of plays to make this winning season happen.”

Davis had a Mickey Mouse bandage over a small scrape on his left hand, a harbinger of a potential North Carolina destination, although there’s still time and every reason to aim even higher.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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