The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday November 30th

Column: Mack Brown's recruits arrived, so it's now or never for UNC football

UNC football head coach Mack Brown speaks at a press conference held at Kenan Stadium on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC football head coach Mack Brown speaks at a press conference held at Kenan Stadium on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

A season ago, North Carolina football appeared to be on the brink of becoming a national contender.

Led by Heisman hopeful Sam Howell, one of 18 returning starters, UNC looked to not only contend for an ACC title, but for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Tabbed the preseason No. 10 team by The Associated Press, such aspirations didn’t appear out of the realm of possibility. 

However, these lofty season goals came to a crashing halt early in the fall. In its season opener, North Carolina lost at Virginia Tech by seven points, and UNC would go on to drop all six of its bouts outside of Kenan Stadium. 

Fresh off a 6-7 season, head coach Mack Brown is using last year’s disappointment to motivate his current roster, namely incoming first-years, ahead of what he hopes will be a long overdue breakout season.

“Everybody in this building knows we should’ve been better last year and we weren’t,” he said at a press conference on June 22. “So, recruits hear that and feel that they want to be a part of something good.”

Since returning to North Carolina in 2019, Brown has lured in numerous top recruits.

During his first full recruiting cycle, Brown inked the No. 14 class in the country according to 247Sports. Over the next two years, the Hall of Fame head coach secured consecutive top-15 recruiting classes.

“The difference between year one and year three is that people know who we are,” Brown said. “We have three years to show that we can be good and that we can play with anybody.”

Several players on this year's roster were among the highest-rated recruits to ever commit to North Carolina.

Two five-star recruits are found on the defensive line in first-year Travis Shaw and redshirt first-year Keeshawn Silver. Despite having a room filled with former high school standouts, defensive line coach Tim Cross knows high school accolades carry little weight into the college ranks.

“In recruiting, the smoke and mirrors and all the hype goes away quickly, and then it's time to get to the things that are real,” he said at the June 22 press conference. “I think that’s where we’ve had success is being real with these young men and their families.”

However, despite the success North Carolina has seen on the recruiting trail over the past few years, the Tar Heels’ performance on the field has failed to follow. This year, the departure of Howell only heightens concerns of another potential drop-off.

Yet, with a quarterback battle headlined by redshirt first-year Drake Maye and junior Jacolby Criswell, North Carolina is confident it can turn things around even if it means using a two-quarterback system.

“I’m sure we could make (two quarterbacks) work if it wins games,” Maye said. “That’s all that matters. (I’ll do) whatever to win some games.”

For UNC, one thing is evident across the entire team — the time to win is now and the need to do so has never been more urgent. 

“What we’ve told our guys is that your goals should be to be happy, get a degree from North Carolina and win every game,” Brown said. “We’ve done all of those things except winning all the games.” 

Unlike last season, North Carolina has little hype and national attention heading into the fall. But don’t be mistaken, the talent and depth of this year’s roster may trump that of last season’s squad as Brown’s prized recruiting classes mature. 

For graduate transfer Noah Taylor, the talent seen on the roster comes as no surprise. According to the former Virginia Cavalier, he always saw the Tar Heels as one of the more talented teams in the ACC, but said the “spoiled” nature of North Carolina led to unexpected losses.

After seven months of being in Chapel Hill, Taylor has begun to see North Carolina change from its past — a change long overdue as UNC looks to assert itself as a top team in the ACC.

“A reason I’m so happy I came is because I'm seeing the transition from — when I first got here — you could see, ‘Alright this is why they are the way that they were,’ because they were spoiled,” he said. “It’s great to see the transition of this program, and something very special is coming this year.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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