By virtue of playing a Week 0 game against Florida A&M, the North Carolina football team had an early Week 3 bye as it prepares for a marquee home meeting against Notre Dame.

The Tar Heels are 3-0 and receiving votes in the most recent Associated Press poll. They have road wins against 2 tough Sun Belt East teams, which is looking more and more impressive with what that division has accomplished so far this season.

For the Heels, it has been a tale of 2 sides of the ball. Carolina’s offense came into the weekend No. 6 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in both scoring and total offense. On the other side of the ball, the Heels were No. 115 in scoring defense and No. 118 in total defense.

Offensively, Carolina’s blazing-hot start is even more impressive considering some key injuries. Wide receiver Josh Downs played in the opener but missed the past 2, and wideout Antoine Green has yet to appear.

Still, Drake Maye has been a revelation at quarterback and has spread the ball well despite missing those 2 main targets. The running game, led by freshman Omarion Hampton, also has been more than stellar.

And while there are tons of concerns on the defensive side of the ball, the 3-0 start has expectations in Chapel Hill steadily climbing. Maye is the real deal, and he has plenty of weapons with reinforcements coming in Downs and Green.

So with all that in mind, what lies ahead for the Heels?

Here are 5 predictions for the rest of Carolina’s season:

Drake Maye will lead the ACC in passing touchdowns

With 11 passing touchdowns through 3 games, this isn’t exactly the boldest of predictions.

Maye has leaped into Carolina’s starting job and done nothing but produce. He’s on an early pace to break pretty much every UNC single-season passing record, and he has done so while protecting the ball well.

The Tar Heels’ offense is fast-paced and high-flying, and Maye’s talent has been on full display. While Carolina’s offense alone would make Maye a strong candidate to lead the conference in touchdowns, the Tar Heels’ defense also will go a long way in making this happen.

Carolina should be involved in a number of shootouts this year, as there’s a good chance Maye will have plenty of opportunities to put up 4 or 5 touchdowns in high-scoring, back-and-forth affairs.

Josh Downs will eclipse 1,000 receiving yards

In 2021, Downs posted a school-record 1,335 receiving yards en route to 1st-team All-ACC honors.

Now in 2022, Downs is at just 78 yards after 3 games, as he has missed the past 2 with injury. The Heels are hopeful Downs will be back soon, possibly as soon as next weekend’s meeting with Notre Dame.

But even with his missed time, there’s a very good chance Downs still reaches the 1,000-yard mark. He’s extremely talented, and he has a quarterback leading an offense that’s as hot as anyone’s. In addition, a few players have stepped up in Downs’ absence, mainly Kobe Paysour. The redshirt freshman has 172 yards and 2 touchdowns.

When Downs returns, the emergence of Paysour and others will help divert some attention. Assuming Downs is back for the Notre Dame game, he still has a great chance at 1,000 yards in the remaining 9 games and likely bowl.

The Heels will hang close with Notre Dame but lose

Carolina has a massive nonconference tilt in Chapel Hill next weekend, as the Fighting Irish will come to Kenan Stadium.

The start of coach Marcus Freeman’s tenure in South Bend, Ind., has been rocky, but there’s no doubting the talent on Notre Dame’s roster. The Irish started the season by playing No.2 Ohio State closer than most people anticipated but followed that with a shocking home loss to Marshall.

Notre Dame’s defense has been stellar, though, especially impressive in holding arguably the most-talented offense in the nation in Ohio State to 21 points. Against Carolina, the Irish should be able to move the ball better. The Irish defense should be able to limit the Heels attack to an extent, and North Carolina will lose a close battle.

Carolina will give up at least 50 points and 500 yards to Wake Forest, again

The Tar Heels’ defense has plenty of weaknesses, and it’s going to bite Carolina against some of the ACC’s best offenses.

Enter Wake Forest, which runs a tricky run-pass offense that looks dangerous again, and quarterback Sam Hartman already has returned from a preseason medical issue. When the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons met in 2021, Wake Forest put up 55 points and 615 yards of offense in a thrilling 58-55 Carolina win.

Carolina has to travel to Winston-Salem on Nov. 12, and it’s a game that promises to be an absolute shootout. Hartman and company should have no issue moving the ball, and there’s a good chance the game will come down to which defense can get even a couple of stops.

The Heels will go 5-3 in ACC play, finish 2nd in Coastal

The Tar Heels were picked to finish 3rd in the ACC Coastal Division in the league’s preseason poll, but the 3-0 start has shown signs of promise.

Predicting UNC’s conference slate, the Heels will go 5-3 in ACC play and ultimately finish 2nd in the division to Miami.

Carolina will open the ACC season with a home win against Virginia Tech but will follow that with a loss at Miami. After that will come a trip to an early surprise in Duke, though it’s a game the Heels still should win.

Following the Duke game, UNC will return home for one of its most important matchups of the season. The reigning conference champions, Pittsburgh Panthers, will be in Chapel Hill, and Carolina will get its biggest win of the year. The Heels will follow up a win at Virginia with a high-scoring loss at Wake Forest.

UNC will close the season with 2 straight home games, against Georgia Tech and NC State. Carolina will easily dispatch the Yellow Jackets but won’t be able to get revenge against an experienced Wolfpack team.