The North Carolina football team has already exceeded expectations after starting the season 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Miami. However, it's a long season, and the Tar Heels still have 10 games remaining before a potential postseason bowl, which is suddenly in play.
Here are the best and worst case scenarios for the rest of UNC's season that could unfold over the next couple of months.
At this point, there are reasonable expectations, which are not far-fetched, that UNC could make a bowl game. But it is all too present in North Carolina fans’ memory that a string of bad luck with injuries or suspensions could throw this season off the rails in a hurry.
Despite a 2-0 record, UNC needed fourth-quarter heroics from true first-year quarterback Sam Howell to earn comeback wins in both games. It would be a tall task to ask Howell to respond to late-game pressure every game.
The Tar Heels have at least one likely victory against FCS foe Mercer. The rest of the schedule, though, could go either way.
In this disaster scenario, North Carolina would be hamstrung by injuries, go 3-9 and drop games to the likes of Georgia Tech, Appalachian State and Duke.
The Yellow Jackets are still transitioning out of the triple option offense, and have not impressed thus far with a blowout loss at Clemson and an unconvincing 14-10 victory over South Florida.
Appalachian State gave up 41 points to UNC-Charlotte in its last game, and Duke lost 42-3 to Alabama to open its season.
Though losses to these teams are unlikely, it will be more difficult to win these games with starting cornerback Patrice Rene out for the season with a torn ACL and starting center Nick Polino ruled out indefinitely with a lower leg injury.
This team is really feeling it right now. After two fourth-quarter comebacks on the back of Howell, fans have started dreaming of an ACC Coastal title and conference championship appearance.
UNC has already beaten arguably the best team in the division with its victory over Miami. The only competition remaining might be No. 25 Virginia, the preseason favorite to win the division. The good news for the Tar Heels is they get to play the Cavaliers at home.
A victory against Virginia would make North Carolina’s path to a division title favorable – if the team can handle its business the rest of the way.
The best possible record for this team is likely 12-2, with both losses coming against Clemson. It's hard to imagine a scenario where UNC beats the Tigers, either in their September 28 regular season matchup or a potential ACC Championship meeting.
This scenario may be more unlikely to happen than the first, but it is possible for a team that has all of the momentum in the world right now.
The Tar Heels are riding high right now, which will get them victories over Wake Forest and Appalachian State in their next two games. With a 4-0 record going into a game against No. 1 Clemson, ESPN’s College Gameday could be on its way to Chapel Hill.
There is sure to be plenty of hype around the game, but let's keep our expectations realistic; Clemson is just too dominant. The Tigers should roll over the Tar Heels, giving the team its first loss of the year.
UNC will go on to beat both Duke and N.C. State, in part because of Mack Brown’s emphasis on winning the “state championship.” North Carolina should also earn victories over Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Mercer.
Aside from Clemson, the game against Virginia will be the toughest for the Tar Heels to win. I predict fans will have to wait for an ACC Coastal title, and the Cavaliers will edge out UNC at the end of the season.
No matter what comes next, Mack Brown’s team has already overcome expectations coming into the season, matching last year's win total after just two games. The next 10 games could go a number of different ways, but the Tar Heels are nonetheless in an outstanding spot two weeks in.
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