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Friday September 24th

In a season with high expectations, meet UNC's most anticipated matchups for 2021

<p>UNC's sophomore quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs the ball during a game against Notre Dame in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Notre Dame beat UNC 31-17.</p>
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UNC's sophomore quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs the ball during a game against Notre Dame in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Notre Dame beat UNC 31-17.

North Carolina football has lofty expectations for the upcoming season.

With Mack Brown in his third year of his second run with the Tar Heels and returning quarterback and Heisman candidate Sam Howell entering his junior year, UNC has high hopes for winning the ACC's Coastal Division. 

As the ACC football season gears up this week, here is a look at a few of UNC’s key games of the season.

Sept. 3 @ Virginia Tech

Not only is the Sept. 3 matchup UNC’s season opener, but it's also the ACC opener and a key game on its schedule. The game will not be easy for the Tar Heels, as it’s a Friday night matchup on the road. 

The Hokies are coming off of a losing season (5-6), including four losses in their last five games. While the team struggled last season, it gives UNC the opportunity to gauge its standing for the coming season.

The Tar Heels beat the Hokies last season, 56-45, but the UNC vs. Virginia Tech matchup could go either way. North Carolina is 3-7 in its last 10 matchups against Virginia Tech. With Virginia Tech predicted to finish third in the Coastal Division, all the pressure is on North Carolina to pull out a win on the road to begin its hyped season. 

Oct. 16 vs. Miami

The Coastal Division is wide open this season, and this game could decide the winner.

The Tar Heels were voted as the preseason favorite, with Miami in second. With the game on their home turf, it could be a clutch win for the Tar Heels.

The Hurricanes, despite having to play away, will be coming off a bye week, whereas UNC will be coming off two home games against Duke and Florida State. This will give the Hurricanes ample time to prepare, which they may need. 

In the last matchup between the Tar Heels and the Hurricanes in 2020, UNC embarrassed Miami, 62-26. North Carolina finished with 778 yards — a record for UNC and the most ever yielded by Miami. Miami will certainly attempt to come back with a vengeance this season.

The Hurricanes will need to step up their defense if they hope to take down North Carolina this season. UNC lost some of its key offensive playmakers to the draft, including running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, who combined for 544 yards rushing last time UNC played Miami. However,  Howell will be returning for UNC, and the matchup between UNC’s Howell and Miami’s own Heisman hopeful, senior quarterback D’Eriq King, should be one to watch.

Oct. 30 @ Notre Dame

This will be North Carolina's toughest matchup of the season.

The Tar Heels lost 31-17 to Notre Dame last season. After sticking with the Fighting Irish in the first quarter, UNC surrendered to their smothering defense and talent level. While the loss might light a fire under the Tar Heels going into this year's game, Notre Dame is also hoping to make a statement this season after its 34-10 blowout loss in the 2020 ACC Championship.

Although it's not a conference game, as Notre Dame won't be competing in the ACC this year, the matchup could have College Football Playoff implications for the Tar Heels, depending on how they perform against Miami. The game could serve as an indicator of UNC football’s present and its trajectory for the future, as Notre Dame is an established powerhouse.

There’s no doubt this game will receive national attention, as Sporting News’ preseason top 25 has Notre Dame ranked sixth and UNC ranked 14th. As a Week 9 game in the season, the Fighting Irish will likely be hot, and UNC, potentially a visiting underdog, will need to put up a strong fight to get the win. 

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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