North Carolina won’t be afforded the luxury of playing an opening-game patsy to shake off the rust and iron out any wrinkles.

Much of the college football world will be focused on the Tar Heels’ Saturday night border showdown with South Carolina on ABC from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

North Carolina vs. South Carolina, 2 teams with high hopes. The Tar Heels are No. 21 in the preseason Associated Press poll, and the Gamecocks are 2nd among teams also receiving votes.

At quarterback, Drake Maye vs. Spencer Rattler in a battle of potential All-American, dare we say, Heisman, hopefuls.

It could be a wild scoring fest – it often has been for the Tar Heels during recent seasons with Sam Howell and now, Maye, who threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns last season.

With Maye, the Tar Heels (9-5 last season despite heart-breaking late losses to NC State and to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl) should have dreams of rolling through their schedule toward a possible high-stakes showdown at Clemson during November. Florida State isn’t on the schedule, and Miami will come to Kenan Stadium.

Rattler, hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate a few years ago while at Oklahoma, resurfaced last year at South Carolina. After a slow start, he led the Gamecocks to victories over Tennessee and Clemson.

South Carolina (8-5 last season) might not be the only early test. Appalachian State will visit Kenan Stadium on Sept. 9 for what amounts to its biggest game of the season. In the teams’ past 2 meetings, Appalachian State won 34-31 in 2019 in Chapel Hill, and UNC won a wild, 63-61 game in last year in Boone, N.C.

And Minnesota, which will play Sept. 16 at North Carolina, quietly has built a solid program under P.J. Fleck. The Gophers are coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons and a 11-2 season in 2019.

Though Saturday night’s spotlight will be shined on Maye and Rattler, the key for UNC likely will be defense. Are the Tar Heels going to be better than last season?

UNC allowed more than 436 yards and more than 30 points per game last season. Remember, Appalachian State put 61 on the scoreboard at home.

If he’s sharp, Rattler will be among the top quarterbacks the Tar Heels will see. He’s capable of big plays with his arm and with his legs. He threw for 438 yards in the victory over then-No. 5 Tennessee.

But Rattler also has been prone to turnovers. That’s where the Tar Heels’ defense needs to step up, put pressure on the quarterback while keeping him penned in.

Though he completed 66% of his passes for 3,026 yards and 18 TDs during 2022, Rattler also threw 12 interceptions and lost 4 fumbles.

The Tar Heels will need to be better on both sides of the line. They gave up at least 40 sacks during each of the past 2 seasons. Last season, the Tar Heels’ defense was last in the ACC with 17 sacks.

Maye won’t have receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green –- each has gone to the NFL — but if he has time to throw, the Tar Heels offense will be fine. But can they stop Rattler and the Gamecocks?

An early UNC-South Carolina showdown hasn’t always been an indicator of what’s to come.

During 2015, Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels lost an opener to a South Carolina team that went on to go 3-9 with Steve Spurrier quitting in midseason while the Tar Heels rebounded to tear off 11 straight victories and advance to the ACC Championship Game.