Why the Tar Heels aren’t hitting the panic button after their second loss in a row

It’s usually around this time each year — and sometimes earlier — that North Carolina Tar Heel fans begin to ask, “When does basketball season start?”

That’s when you know UNC’s football team is struggling and its fans are fed up. In 2017 and 2018, one thing was abundantly clear: The Tar Heels were a bad team, and it wasn’t going to get better.

But with a new head coach in Mack Brown, this season seems different. Although the Tar Heels have lost two consecutive games, after starting the season 2-0, they are still in good shape as they enter ACC play against No. 1 Clemson next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.

“We’ve got a lot of games left,” UNC senior safety Myles Dorn told reporters after Saturday’s game. “We can still end up only losing two games, which would put us in a great position.”

Remember, the Tar Heels have played only one ACC game this season — against Miami — and it ended in a 28-25 win. UNC’s 24-18 loss to Wake Forest on Sept. 13 was a non-conference game and did not count against its record.

So the Tar Heels are 1-0, and still undefeated, in the ACC Coastal Division behind only Virginia, which is 2-0.

On Saturday, UNC lost to in-state rival Appalachian State 34-31. It was a game the Tar Heels were expected to win, given that App State hadn’t beaten a Power 5 opponent since 2007. But the Mountaineers were the better team.

“They played hard tonight, they were passionate, congratulations to Appalachian State,” Brown said after the game. “They’ve got a good team. They’ve won a lot of games.

“But we had time ... and opportunities to win the game even after the turnovers that gave them short fields.”

UNC needs seven wins to become bowl eligible, and although a win over App State would have helped its cause, a bowl game still remains within reach.

After No. 1 Clemson (4-0), UNC’s schedule gets a little easier. The Tar Heels face Georgia Tech (1-2) on Oct. 5, Virginia Tech (2-1) on Oct. 19 and Duke (2-1) on Oct. 26.

Brown said he likes where his team is and isn’t worried about whether they had lost any momentum from the first two wins.

“I love that we beat Miami,” Brown said. “And I loved that we beat South Carolina. In fact, I thought we had a chance to beat these two (Wake and App) and lose to those two (USC and Miami).

“We ended up 2-2, which is about where I thought we would be if we played well. We’ve already won as many games as we’ve won all last year.”

The expectations for the Tar Heels entering this season were not very high. UNC was picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in the ACC Coastal Division in 2019.

In 2018, the Tar Heels finished 2-9. They didn’t pick up their second win until their 10th game of the season, and it came against an FCS opponent in Western Carolina. The Tar Heels’ only other victory in 2018 was a 38-35 win over Pittsburgh, which finished 7-5 in the regular season and won the 2018 ACC Coastal Division title.

Stranger things have happened.

“Now you kind of start over with everything and start looking at the Coastal and take what you’ve done and build off of it,” Brown said. “They know they can win, but again, you’ve got to play good to win.”

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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