UNC football: If Heels are for real, they'll show us Saturday vs. Notre Dame
It has been the year of the Sun Belt so far in college football.
The conference has stolen national headlines early, with 3 marquee wins in the record books. Appalachian State went on the road and toppled then-No. 6 Texas A&M. Marshall did the same at then-No. 8 Notre Dame. And Georgia Southern officially ended the tumultuous tenure of Scott Frost in Nebraska with a 45-42 win in Lincoln.
But with the Sun Belt’s early success, there has been a Power 5 team that has handled its business against 2 of the league’s toughest teams.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are 3-0, and their past 2 games have come on the road against Sun Belt foes. The Heels beat Appalachian State 63-61 in a thriller in Boone, N.C., and they followed that with a 35-28 victory over Georgia State in Atlanta.
Expectations coming into the season were tempered for the Tar Heels, who were picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division, but a hot start has them starting to make some noise as the ACC season approaches.
On offense, the Heels have completely looked the part of an ACC contender. Drake Maye is rolling as the starting quarterback, and the weapons are stepping up around him. But defensively, Carolina has been a bit of a rotating door.
And now, the Tar Heels will face a new challenge, though one that looks substantially more winnable than it did a month ago. Notre Dame will travel to Chapel Hill this weekend, and North Carolina will have a prime chance to show it is for real.
The Fighting Irish didn’t have the greatest start to the season. They fell to Marshall the week after playing No.2 Ohio State tightly, but ultimately losing. Notre Dame finally got its first win of the Marcus Freeman era this past weekend in a 24-17 victory over Cal.
Now the Irish will come to Kenan Stadium, and Notre Dame will look to prove it’s back on track. North Carolina will look to prove it’s a force to be reckoned with in 2022.
For Carolina, Saturday’s game will be a tough test against a team that’s its opposite. The Heels have the No. 5 offense in the country, averaging 547.3 yards per game. Notre Dame’s offense checks in at No. 114, barely mustering 300 yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, UNC is giving up over 468 yards per game and is among the bottom 10 in the country among Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Notre Dame’s defense has been stellar and is allowing 351.7 yards per game, an impressive mark considering the Irish started the season against the nation’s most-talented offensive unit in Ohio State.
Can Carolina’s defense find some form of footing against a struggling offense? Or will Notre Dame finally score some points against the Tar Heels’ shoddy secondary? Will Maye and company be able to keep things rolling against a top defense? Or will Notre Dame finally expose Carolina’s youth on that side of the ball?
Those are the questions that are being asked, and they’re the ones that will be answered at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Chapel Hill. If Carolina is for real, if this Tar Heels team has an actual chance to make some noise in the Coastal, then it will show us against the Irish.
The last time UNC beat Notre Dame was 2008, though Carolina later vacated that game. On the books, Carolina’s last victory over the Irish came during 1960. So Notre Dame leads the all-time series 19-1.
If UNC finds a way to beat Notre Dame at home Saturday, it’ll be time to start taking the Tar Heels seriously.