Now, though — after North Carolina’s 59-7 loss to No. 14 Virginia Tech — the Tar Heels find themselves in the midst of a historically bad stretch.
One that nobody thought to anticipate at the start of the 2017 season.
Saturday’s contest marks only the fourth time North Carolina (1-7, 0-5 ACC) hasn’t scored double-digit points in the Fedora era; the third time happened earlier this year against Georgia Tech. North Carolina will end its regular season with less than six wins for the first time in a decade.
In any other recent season’s context, North Carolina’s blowout loss in Blacksburg, Va., would appear to be an outlier. However, UNC’s loss to the Hokies was emblematic of its woes the team has battled all season long.
For North Carolina, there was inconsistent quarterback play and lackluster protection provided by the offensive line. There were turnovers that were eventually — if not immediately — turned into VT points. And there was a defense that, to its credit, hung tough at the beginning, but was worn down early in the second quarter because the Tar Heel offense couldn’t seem to buy their counter unit any time to rest.
North Carolina allowed Virginia Tech to return a fumble, a punt and an interception for three of its first four touchdowns.
Hokie quarterback Josh Jackson threw for three touchdowns and 132 yards on 10 for 20 passing. He sat out for much of the game's second half.
Redshirt first-year quarterback Chazz Surratt completed four passes for 94 yards and one touchdown, was sacked twice and lost one fumble.
Graduate transfer Brandon Harris was worse. He threw four completions for 24 yards and two interceptions and was sacked twice.
The Hokies more than tripled the Tar Heels in rush yards and nearly doubled their production through the air. North Carolina punted a season high 11 times and allowed six sacks for 56 yards lost.
Any way you spin it, North Carolina fell short. And was beaten into the ground.
The last time North Carolina was 1-7, Larry Fedora hadn’t debuted as a head coach yet, professional athletes at the peaks of their careers then have since retired and popular culture has evolved significantly.
This 2017 North Carolina team — from a statistical standpoint — shares more in common with the Tar Heels that played 11 years ago than any other team since.
The difference is, though, the Tar Heels' struggles in 2017 all happened without any warning.