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The Daily Tar Heel

Analysis: UNC football adds major opponents to modified schedule

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UNC's football team plays against Duke University on Saturday, Oct. 26th, 2019 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Duke is one of 11 teams UNC will play this season, according to the ACC schedule.

The preseason No. 19 North Carolina football team's schedule is not immune to the unprecedented changes brought by COVID-19. On Aug. 6, the ACC released UNC's new 11-game schedule in accordance with the ACC's new model of 10 in-conference competitions and one out-of-conference game.

In the new schedule, the Tar Heels will now face a few unexpected opponents in Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Florida State and UNC Charlotte. 

The addition of Notre Dame to the conference championship race will put North Carolina on the hot seat, but even with that added competition, UNC will struggle to make up for the strength of schedule deficit created by the loss of the UCF and Auburn games. 

Notre Dame

The Tar Heels will face the Fighting Irish a year earlier than expected with the new schedule adjustments. On Nov. 27 in Chapel Hill, UNC will play the first of a three-game series between the programs over the next three years.

Notre Dame ranks No. 10 in the preseason rankings and will provide a challenge for the young UNC defense. The Tar Heels filled defensive holes on the recruiting trail this offseason after the loss of star defensive linemen Jason Strowbridge to the NFL draft and three members of the secondary opting out due to COVID-19 concerns. 

First-year impact players such as Tony Grimes and Desmond Evans will have to be sharp facing off against a potent Fighting Irish offense. This game has the potential to turn into an offensive shootout with two talented quarterbacks behind center, Sam Howell and Ian Book.

The Fighting Irish made it to the College Football Playoff two seasons ago and will be added competition for an ACC Championship appearance after they took on a full ACC schedule due to COVID-19 limiting out-of-conference games across the country. This matchup will prove key if the Tar Heels hope to reach the ACC Championship for the first time since 2015. 

Wake Forest

A Nov. 14 matchup with Wake Forest in Chapel Hill was added to UNC's slate after the ACC's schedule changes. For the second year in a row, the Tar Heels will play all in-state ACC competition — offering them another chance at sweeping the state after falling one game short with a loss to the Demon Deacons last year.

A Friday night game last year against Wake Forest resulted in the first loss of the season for UNC. The young North Carolina defense will need to lock down wide receiver Sage Surratt — the brother of UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt — who was lights-out in last year's head-to-head. 

UNC didn't score in the first half against the Demon Deacons last season and will be looking to start a lot faster in this year's matchup. The Tar Heels rely on an air raid offense and quick points to give them needed momentum down the stretch. This matchup will definitely be a game to watch this season. With only a six-point differential last year and more experience now under UNC's belt, this game could be a turning point for both programs' campaigns.

Lost Games 

2020 will mark the first time in 40 years that UNC will not have a matchup against Georgia Tech. In addition to losing the Yellow Jackets game, North Carolina also lost a Coastal Division game against Pittsburgh. 

The Tar Heels will also drop competitive out-of-conference games against UCF and Auburn, which will be a hard hit to their strength of schedule. Other games that have been removed from the schedule are games against James Madison and Connecticut, both of which postponed their seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Despite a changing schedule, this season will be memorable because of both UNC’s potential and the background of a global pandemic that has impacted all sports. 

@marymacporter1

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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