It had been the goal since the Tar Heels arrived for the first day of training camp in early August. It had been the goal since Coach Larry Fedora first arrived in Chapel Hill in Dec. 2011.
But as the 2015 regular season came to a close for UNC with a 45-34 victory over rival N.C. State on Saturday, the Tar Heels’ 11th straight win, Fedora and North Carolina found themselves in a position to re-evaluate.
“We talked about reestablishing goals for the rest of the season, and what it boiled down to was having goals for things that we can control,” Fedora said on Sunday. “And so our goal is to win the conference championship and the other is to make sure we win our bowl game.”
One week earlier, the Tar Heels captured the Coastal Division crown in an overtime victory against Virginia Tech. And as UNC heads into its upcoming ACC title tilt with Clemson, the team will hope to claim its first conference championship since 1980.
The 2015 season has no doubt been a fruitful campaign for the Tar Heels, but it is one that looked, at its outset, looked all too familiar for the program.
In North Carolina’s first game of the season, redshirt senior quarterback Marquise Williams tossed three red-zone interceptions en route to a 17-13 loss against South Carolina.
The game was held in Williams’ hometown of Charlotte, where the ACC Championship will be played Saturday. Here, the fifth-year senior hopes, will be his shot at redemption.
“The last time I was in Charlotte, it was something bad. ...” he said. “I knew if we just kept working hard, kept preparing the same, that I would get my chance to go. It’s special now — I get to go back for a second chance.”
One of the main contributors that has vaulted North Carolina into the conference title game has been the defense, which under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik looks vastly different than it did a year ago.
In 2014, UNC gave up 39 points per game, ranking No. 119 out of 128 teams. As the team opened practice this season under new direction and in a new scheme, the changes could be seen immediately.
“You can’t compare this defense and last year’s,” said redshirt senior Jeff Schoettmer in August. “Through four days I think we’re already a better defense than we were the whole last season.”
Heading into the postseason, North Carolina currently has the No. 21 scoring defense in the country, giving up just 20.8 points per game.
And as the team prepares to take on Clemson’s high-octane offense on Dec. 5, the Tar Heels hope their defense can continue to baffle opposing teams.