The North Carolina Tar Heels football team, who won nine games last year, is coming off their best season since 2015 when they won 11 games. This will be Mack Brown's fifth season as the Tar Heels' coach, where he'll have a Heisman-potential first-round pick of the NFL Draft quarterback at the helm in redshirt sophomore Drake Maye. Honestly, this season has all the makings to be a progressive year for the Heels, one where they have the talent in place to make big things happen in a barely average ACC conference. Can this be the season that Brown not only makes the ACC title game for the second time but also walks away with North Carolina football's first conference championship? Let's get into some bold predictions.
4. If North Carolina football wins fewer than 8 games, Mack Brown will be on the hot seat
As mentioned, Mack Brown had his best season in his second run as the Tar Heels' coach last season, going 9-5. It was also the first time he made an appearance in the ACC title game. Clemson, however, would add yet another trophy to their case last season, though.
In Brown's previous seasons since returning to Chapel Hill, he's gone 7-6, 8-4, and 6-7. Being a basketball school, it hasn't always been easy to win at North Carolina, but the Tar Heels have had talented teams in the past. Brown has brought some excitement to the Tar Heels' football program since returning but has still had issues producing enough wins to get the team where it feels like it should be – at least competing with top-tier Clemson yearly for the conference title. Some of that is due to still not being able to figure out the defense. If Brown's Tar Heels finish with under eight wins with a Heisman-favorite quarterback behind an experienced offensive line, then don't be surprised if his seat starts to heat up just a little bit.
3. The North Carolina defense will be improved down the stretch
North Carolina had eight games last season decided by seven points or fewer, and six of those were by three or fewer. The Tar Heels were one of the worst teams in the country in points per game (31.3 points, ranked 104th) and yards per game (444.3 yards, ranked 111th).
“Last year, the lack of depth on defense was a major issue for the Tar Heels, so much so that inside linebackers Power Echols and Cedric Gray rarely took a snap off,” Jordan Crammer of CBS17 wrote. “Both will once again be a one-two punch for the front seven.”
This will be year two under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, whose Tar Heels defense was at the bottom of the ACC. In year two, the hope is that with some transfer portal additions and added depth, this group will be much improved. This might not show immediately as they'll need some game time to jell, but as the season goes on, this group could look night and day from last year.
2. North Carolina football will be 10-0 or 9-1 entering the Clemson game
Looking at the Tar Heels' schedule, the first part of it is manageable, yet not certain. Of course, the first game in primetime on ABC against the South Carolina Gamecocks won't be a gimme, but it's still a winnable game. I predicted in my South Carolina bold predictions piece that the game could be an early contender for game of the year by the end of it, with the game potentially becoming a shootout due to the high-powered offenses and minimal defenses of both teams.
As long as Drake Maye is healthy, the Tar Heels will have a shot in almost any game. I'm not saying they won't keep games close like they did last season because of their defense, but I do believe they can replicate or even perform one game better than they did last season.
After South Carolina, they have Appalachian State and Minnesota at home, followed by Pitt on the road. Appalachian State gave them trouble last year and took them down to the wire, with North Carolina only beating them by two points in a game that totaled 124 points. Minnesota is manageable, although they could pose problems as well, and Pitt may be coming back down to size this season – North Carolina beat them by 18 last year.
From there, it's a three-game homestand, with Syracuse, Miami, and Virginia. The Tar Heels beat both Miami and Virginia by a combined six points last season. Both of these teams, especially Miami, who completely revamped their team from the inside out in the offseason, could be a challenge. But the Cavaliers may pose one as well. Then it's Georgia Tech on the road, followed by Campbell and Duke at home.
1. Drake Maye will win the Heisman
If North Carolina can once again improve by at least a game this season, reaching 10 wins, I believe that would be enough to get Drake Maye to New York for the Heisman ceremony and potentially win it. Of course, he would also have to put up great stats, but that should be a given if the Tar Heels are a 10-win team, which has only happened nine times in team history.
Maye's biggest competition will be former Heisman winner Caleb Williams out of USC. There's only been one two-time winner of the award, Archie Griffin, and most probably won't want to see that stay with the former Ohio State running back. If it comes down to Maye and Williams, and their numbers are similar, then I believe voters would choose Maye.