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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC football ready for a physical schedule in 2023

UNC redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) takes a glance at the crowd before the 2022 Subway ACC Football Championship Game against Clemson to begin at the Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. UNC fell to Clemson 39-10.

When Mack Brown took the podium at the 2023 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, he made one thing clear about UNC’s schedule: 

It will be physical.

Brown and the Tar Heels will return to Charlotte for their season opener to play South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic on Saturday, Sept. 2.

The preseason No. 21 Tar Heels will be tested from the jump. 

Physical teams with a knack for running the ball — just like South Carolina — gave UNC trouble in 2022. The Tar Heels finished in the bottom three in the ACC in rushing defense last season. Now, in 2023, the Tar Heels will be challenged on the ground from day one. 

South Carolina will look to run the ball, and so will Appalachian State, who UNC will face the following week on Sept. 9. This theme of defending on the ground will continue throughout the first third of the season, with games against Minnesota and then Pittsburgh. 

“It will be a great four games to start out to see if we've improved like we think we have on defense,” Brown said at ACC Kickoff.

Not only are South Carolina and App State physical teams, but they are also regional rivals. Along with those matchups will come electric gameday atmospheres. 

Brown expects the game with the Mountaineers to be a nail-biter, just as last season’s 63-61 victory and 2019’s 34-31 loss were.

“We’ve had two games that came down to the last play with [App State], and I expect this one to be the same this year,” Brown said.

The Tar Heels will host Minnesota in another early physical test in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Sept. 16. Then, UNC will play its first conference game, as well as its first true road game, at Pittsburgh on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Conference play resumes on Oct. 7 as UNC hosts Syracuse. This season the ACC has done away with divisions, making a wider variety of matchups possible. Since the Orange joined the ACC, they have only played UNC twice. Now, the door is open for more games between ACC schools that were previously separated by divisions.

After Syracuse, UNC continues a three-game home stretch, with contests against Miami and Virginia on Oct. 14 and 21 respectively. 

The second road game of the season will happen just before Halloween when the Tar Heels travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech on Oct. 28. Then, UNC will take a one-week hiatus from conference play as they host non-conference foe, Campbell, on Nov. 4.

The following week will be Homecoming and Senior Night in Chapel Hill. Oh, and rivalry day.

Duke will play the Tar Heels on Nov. 11 as UNC will look to extend a four-game winning streak over its rivals.

The final two games of the season might be two of the most critical and most hyped for UNC. On Nov. 18, the Tar Heels are at preseason No. 9 Clemson in what is projected to be the highest-rated opponent they face all season.

Finally, UNC ends the season in Raleigh, at N.C. State on Nov. 25. Last season’s double-overtime thriller against the Wolfpack will be hard to match, but anytime these two teams match up it's certain to command attention.

The Tar Heels will start the season running. And each game will be a test of how they have improved at dealing with physicality. The degree to which they succeed at handling it will determine whether they can make another run to the ACC Championship this year.


@dthsports |

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