The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday February 3rd

Tough Opponents Just What Tar Heels Need

Texas. Wisconsin. Virginia Tech. Notre Dame. Colorado. Michigan.

All of the above were among North Carolina's nonconference opponents -- spread out over the next 10 years -- heading into this sea-son.

So what does new coach John Bunting do barely before he can even move all of his stuff into his new office?

He tacks the defending national champion -- No. 3 Oklahoma -- onto his team's schedule.

The season opener. On the road.

After two seasons of disappointing football and a combined record of 9-13.

Brash? Yes.

Over-anxious? Perhaps.

A mistake? Definitely not.

Who cares that the Tar Heels already had a reunion with North Carolina football savior/saboteur Mack Brown at No. 5 Texas the second week of the season?

Who cares that they already had a home meeting with ECU (ranked 30th), whose players, coaches and fans probably would be happier having a fist fight in the Kenan Stadium parking lot than playing an actual game on Oct. 6?

Who cares that adding Oklahoma gave them five opponents (along with conference foes No. 6 Florida State, No. 10 Georgia Tech and No. 19 Clemson) ranked in the top 20 in the nation?

Who cares that they now play their first three games on the road, the first time that has happened in more than 100 years?

Bunting's only head coaching experience might be five seasons at Rowan University, a Division III school in Glassboro, N.J., but he clearly knows what it takes to build -- or in UNC's case, rebuild -- a prominent football program.

You play the best competition you can. You watch them take you apart. You lick your wounds, and you learn from it.

"I want them to see what No. 1 looks like," Bunting said after a prac-tice last week.

And there's something else scheduling high-profile opponents gives your football program.

Exposure, exposure, exposure.

Because their first game is a week before all the other local schools', the Tar Heels have enjoyed a bevy of local media coverage.

Bunting's mug has been all over the place, and don't think for a second that in-state football players haven't seen it and read about how he's working his players like they're professionals.

And with all eyes on Norman, Okla., and the reigning national champions right now, UNC has gotten to enjoy the spotlight vicariously.

Just about every time Oklahoma has been mentioned the past few weeks by the national media, so has its first opponent: North Carolina.

The same North Carolina that used to be a national powerhouse itself a scant few years ago.

The program won't get back to where it used to be this season.

Not even close.

But its new coach clearly knows what it takes to change that.

James Giza can be reached at giza@email.unc.edu.

JAMES GIZA

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