UNC football: 10 bold predictions for rest of season
It has been quite the season so far for the North Carolina football team.
The Tar Heels are 6-1 and ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25. Carolina is in the driver’s seat to win the ACC Coastal after being picked to finish 3rd in the division, and Drake Maye is putting up historically good numbers in his 1st year as the starting quarterback in Chapel Hill.
And as Carolina comes out of its bye week, there are a lot of things ahead for this team looking to make a trip to Charlotte in early December.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the rest of the season:
The Tar Heels will play for the ACC title
Maybe not so much of a bold prediction when you look at the Coastal standings, but Carolina will be making the trip to Bank of America Stadium during December.
The Heels are 3-0 in ACC play, already the only team left in the Coastal Division without a conference loss. With wins against Miami and Duke, Carolina also has played 2 of its main competitors for the Coastal crown.
While UNC does have tough crossover games in Wake Forest and NC State, though the latter appears significantly less tougher these days, things still are setting up nicely for Carolina to win the Coastal. A meeting at home with Pittsburgh this weekend will hold huge implications, but Carolina is capable of beating the Panthers and winning the Coastal comfortably.
Drake Maye will win ACC Player of the Year
The main reason for all the success so far has been Maye, who is putting together an unreal season in his 1st year as a collegiate starter.
Maye leads the ACC in passing yards, completion percentage, passing touchdowns, passer efficiency and TD/interception ratio. He’s also 9th in the ACC in rushing yards, and ranks 3rd in rushing among ACC quarterbacks.
And there’s no real reason to believe Maye is going to slow down anytime soon. He is well on his way to winning ACC Player of the Year.
Maye will shatter at least 4 program records …
So, where does that start for Maye stack up in Carolina history? Pretty darn good.
With 2,283 passing yards through 7 games, Maye is on pace to put up 4,240 even if Carolina doesn’t play in the ACC title game. The season Carolina record is 3,748 yards, set by Mitch Trubisky during 2016.
In terms of passing touchdowns, Maye is on pace to finish a 13-game season with 45 scoring tosses. Sam Howell holds the UNC record with 38. Maye is well on pace to break Howell’s total touchdowns record, too.
And in total yards, Maye is on pace to finish the season with 4,564, which would break Trubisky’s program record by more than 500 yards.
All in all, Maye is putting together the best statistical season of any quarterback in school history. Assuming he doesn’t hit a major wall during the back half of the season, his name will be all over the school record book by the end of the year.
…as well as a couple of ACC records
But it’s not just Carolina records Maye is aiming for, either.
The ACC record for passing touchdowns in a season is 42 from Kenny Pickett while a Pittsburgh. For passing yards, the record belongs to Deshaun Watson with 4,593 yards for Clemson. For touchdowns responsible for, Lamar Jackson holds the record with 51.
Maye is on pace to break Pickett’s passing touchdown record and Jackson’s total touchdown record even without the ACC championship game. An extra game in Charlotte would put him right on pace for Watson’s mark.
On top of that, North Carolina doesn’t exactly have the best defenses in the world left to face, either. The Tar Heels still have games against Wake Forest, Virginia and Georgia Tech, all of which rank among the bottom half of the ACC in total defense.
Josh Downs will eclipse 1,000 yards again
Apart from Maye, wideout Josh Downs is putting together another exceptional year.
Downs broke the Carolina record with 1,335 receiving yards a year ago, and he’s putting together a very similar season in 2022. Downs has 425 receiving yards on the year despite missing 2 games, as he’s averaging 85 yards a contest.
At current pace, Downs would finish just shy of 1,000 yards over 13 games but eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with a 14th in the ACC title game. Either way, there’s a very good chance Downs will hit that 1,000-yard plateau again regardless.
He’s an exceptional receiver, and he has proven time and again to be Maye’s go-to target.
The Heels will appear among the top 15 of the College Football Playoff rankings
Carolina currently is No. 22 in the AP Top 25, though 3 teams ahead of the Tar Heels already have 2 losses.
The first iteration of the College Football Playoff rankings will come out Nov. 1, a few days after the Tar Heels play Pittsburgh at home Saturday. The following week Carolina will be at lowly Virginia.
If the Heels can win both of those games, which certainly seems possible can, there’s a good chance Carolina could appear among the top 15 in the College Football Playoff rankings. A win at Wake Forest the next weekend certainly would get Carolina there, but even before that the Heels could make a high appearance if they just keep winning.
The Heels and Wake Forest will play 1 of the game’s of the year Nov. 12
On Nov. 12 in Winston-Salem, N.C., Carolina and Wake Forest will battle in a game that defenses might appear optional.
And the result should be glorious. Maye will be slinging the ball around for the Tar Heels. Sam Hartman will be doing the same for the team in black and gold. And fans will be treated to a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair that should promise to be among the most thrilling college football games of the season.
For Carolina, the stakes will be keeping its footing atop the Coastal. For Wake Forest, the stakes will be putting it to the Tar Heels in hopes of securing a New Year’s Six bowl if Clemson makes the playoff.
It should be a doozy at Truist Field.
Carolina will get its revenge on NC State
Last year, Carolina ended its regular season with a shocking last-minute loss to rival NC State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack scored 2 touchdowns during the final minutes to mount an insane comeback, as the Tar Heels just missed out on a signature win to end the Howell era at quarterback.
This year, though, the Tar Heels will get their revenge at home. NC State is struggling and will play the rest of the season without quarterback Devin Leary. For Carolina, it will be an opportunity to do to NC State what the Wolfpack did to Carolina in 2021: end a season that started with high hopes in a rivalry loss to cap a disappointing year.
The Tar Heels will keep it close with Clemson in Charlotte
If all goes well for Carolina, it will be playing in Charlotte during December. And the opponent almost certainly will be Clemson.
And while the Tigers match up well against anybody in the ACC, Carolina will be able to keep it close against Clemson in an ultimate loss for the Tar Heels. While Clemson’s offense should have no trouble moving the ball against UNC, the Heels also are built to keep things close in a shootout.
Wake Forest managed to take Clemson to double-overtime in a high-scoring thriller. There’s no reason Carolina can’t do the same, to some degree. The Tar Heels probably will lose in Charlotte, but it could be a lot closer than most of the country would expect.
Carolina will miss out on the Orange Bowl
Assuming Clemson runs the table and books a spot in the College Football Playoff, the ACC”s Orange Bowl spot will be open for the highest-ranked team other than the Tigers to grab.
And while being ACC runners-up would make Carolina’s resume a little stronger, there’s a good chance Wake Forest or Syracuse end the season with just a single loss. The Demon Deacons obviously would have to beat Carolina to make that happen, but Hartman at home should be able to get that done.
With UNC at 2 or 3 losses and either of those Atlantic teams boasting fewer losses in the tougher division, it’ll be hard for the Heels to get the Orange Bowl spot without beating the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem next month.
The Cheez-It Bowl or ReliaQuest (formerly Outback) Bowl it shall be for the Heels.