For UNC football, the second Mack Brown era will begin in much the same way the first one did – with a battle against the Gamecocks for supremacy of the Carolinas.
Thirty-one years after Brown’s first game as a Tar Heel, North Carolina will again open the season against South Carolina on Aug. 31 in Charlotte, kicking off a 2019 schedule highlighted by nine ACC opponents and a matchup with reigning national champion Clemson.
The daunting slate also features clashes with Appalachian State (11-2 last season), a new-look Miami team led by transfer quarterback Tate Martell and those ever-present rivalry games against Duke and N.C. State.
Here's a closer look at this year’s schedule, and what it means for both the Tar Heels and the ACC at large.
The aforementioned Gamecocks are coming off a 7-6 campaign that included losses to five ranked teams and a 28-0 thumping by Virginia in the Belk Bowl. In 2015, the Tar Heels dropped their season opener against South Carolina, then ripped off 11 straight wins. Look for this game to be a reliable indicator of North Carolina’s potential, and how much of that potential Brown will be able to bring out.
Surely the tallest order of the season for Brown’s squad will be knocking off Clemson on Sept. 28. The Tigers are a team that is retaining the bulk of its national title-winning talent, including rising sophomores Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and standout receiver Justyn Ross. In all likelihood, head coach Dabo Swinney’s team will also be formidable yet again on the defensive side of the ball, returning starters on a team that allowed just 13.1 points per game last season — good for best in the country. The two squads haven’t faced off since December 2015, when a controversial offside call on an onside kick thwarted North Carolina from an opportunity to win its first ACC Championship since 1980.
Before they worry about Clemson, the Tar Heels will have to wrestle with Miami on Sept. 7 in a compelling home opener. The immediate eligibility of Martell, a former four-star quarterback, is still in question. However, his talent alone should help the Hurricanes improve on a disappointing 7-6 campaign should he be available.
On Oct. 26, Duke will visit Chapel Hill in the latest installment of the annual battle for the Victory Bell. North Carolina is winless in its last three tries against Duke and gave up an average of 32.3 points in those games. Brown will attempt to add to his veritable success against the Blue Devils; he went 8-2 against the team during his time in Chapel Hill.
Per usual, UNC will conclude its season against N.C. State, with this year’s matchup slated for Nov. 30 in Raleigh. Last season, the Tar Heels failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities en route to a 34-28 loss to the Wolfpack in overtime. The loss was the fourth to N.C. State in five games, and the ninth loss in the last 12 games. In the first Brown era, however, the Tar Heels won their last five matchups against N.C. State before the head coach's departure.