2021 is going to be a year filled with lofty expectations and plenty of opportunity for Mack Brown and the Tar Heels. With the ACC schedule being set by the conference on Thursday morning, the Tar Heels schedule for the 2021 season is now officially set, as they look to continue their rapid climb back toward being a contender in college football. Here is a breakdown of the slate that lies ahead for the Tar Heels this upcoming fall.
April 24th: Spring Game
There is no guarantee that the spring game will happen with the spread of COVID-19 still a lingering issue in the United States, but as of right the event is tentatively scheduled for the final Saturday in April. This will be a good chance for fans, if they are allowed or if it is televised, to get a look at the battle for playing time at running back and wide receiver before the summer hiatus. This will also be an interesting first public look at the battle between Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell behind Sam Howell, one that will set the table for who could be the starter in 2022 with the expected departure of Howell to the NFL.
September 2nd/3rd: @Virginia Tech
All-Time Meetings: 42 (12-24-6)
Last Meeting: 2020 (56-45 win)
The Tar Heels will kick off their 2021 season with one of their toughest games of the season, as they will have to venture on the road to Lane Stadium, a place that has been a house of horrors for them in the past. As a program, the Tar Heels are 2-6 all-time in Blacksburg and they will be facing a Virginia Tech team that will be looking to make a statement out of the gate with Justin Fuente once again entering the season on the hot seat. The good news for the Tar Heels is that they will have an entire offseason to prepare for a game that will likely be one of the first primetime games of the season and could have a major impact on the outlook of the ACC Coastal in 2021.
September 11th: Georgia State
All-Time Meetings: 0 (First Meeting)
Last Meeting: N/A
The 2021 home slate will open with one of the easier games of the entire season, as the Tar Heels face the Panthers for the first time in program history. Shawn Elliott got the Panthers trending in the right direction this past season, as they finished the year 6-4, but this is still an extremely favorable matchup that the team should be able to dominate.
September 18th: Virginia
All-Time Meetings: 126 (64-58-4)
Last Meeting: 2020 (44-41 loss)
This will be one big hurdle that this team has to clear early on in the 2021 season. The Cavaliers have won the last four meetings with the Tar Heels and is one of the lone challenges that Mack Brown and his first two teams haven’t been able to solve. This will be a game where the Tar Heels will need their defense to show up, something it has failed to do the past two years. Bronco Mendenhall will bring a less experienced team to Chapel Hill than the one that he did back in 2019, but this will still be a tough game that the Tar Heels will have to find a way to win to take the next step.
September 25th: @Georgia Tech
All-Time Meetings: 54 (21-30-3)
Last Meeting: 2019 (38-22 win)
After the Yellow Jackets were left off the Tar Heels COVID adjusted schedule in 2020, they return to the team’s schedule for a second consecutive meeting in Atlanta. Back in 2019, the Tar Heels had no problem disposing of an extremely young and transitioning team, but this 2021 Yellow Jacket team could be one of the sleepers in the ACC this season in their third season under Geoff Collins. Even with all of that, this should still be one of the easier conference games of the season and could be the start of a section on the schedule that would allow this team to settle into a bit of a groove.
October 2nd: Duke
All-Time Meetings: 106 (61-41-4)
Last Meeting: 2020 (56-24 win)
After simply destroying the Blue Devils a year ago, the Tar Heels will look to extend their win streak against them to three straight in this one. There is a growing sense of uncertainty in the ACC around the direction of the Duke program as a whole under David Cutcliffe and it doesn’t appear, at least on paper, that the team he will bring to Chapel Hill this season will be much better than last years. This sets up to be the Tar Heels easiest conference game of the season, especially if the offense is once again one of the best in the conference again like it’s expected to be.
October 9th: Florida State
All-Time Meetings: 20 (3-16-1)
Last Meeting: 2020 (31-28 loss)
This is the start of what will be a crucial two week stretch that everyone around the Tar Heel program should have circled on their calendar. After a disappointing, head-scratching loss this past season to a Seminoles team that finished the season 3-6, the Tar Heels will be looking for revenge in this one and help Mack Brown get the monkey off his back against one of the few teams that he has never been able to defeat. There are still a lot of issues and question marks around the Florida State program, meaning that heading in, the Tar Heels should be a favorite to get past the Seminoles in this one.
October 16th: Miami
All-Time Meetings: 22 (11-11-0)
Last Meeting: 2020 (62-26 win)
The Tar Heels picked up a huge win against the Hurricanes to close the 2020 regular season and it feels like this matchup will be an important one once again this year. This will end a stretch of three straight home games, a spot on the schedule that feels important, and the return of quarterback D’Eriq King for another season has set the stage for this to be another important matchup in the outcome of the ACC Coastal. The Tar Heels have had some nice success against the Hurricanes since they entered the ACC, even in down seasons, and it feels like that success will have to continue in 2021 if they want to achieve their goals for the season.
October 30th: @Notre Dame
All-Time Meetings: 20 (1-19-0)
Last Meeting: 2020 (31-17 loss)
The Tar Heels toughest game on the schedule for the second consecutive season will be a meeting with the Fighting Irish, this time on the road. The Tar Heels have historically struggled against the Fighting Irish period, but they are 0-12 all-time in South Bend. This will be a tough game regardless, but if both teams can as much as match the expectations from the preseason, this has the chance to be one of the bigger matchups of the entire college football season. This could also be a determination of just how serious of a contender the 2021 Tar Heels are if they can beat the teams they are supposed to prior to this game.
November 6th: Wake Forest
All-Time Meetings: 108 (70-36-2)
Last Meeting: 2020 (59-53 win)
This will be the second and final part of the strange home-and-home series with the Demon Deacons that is considered an out of conference game for both sides. Dave Clawson and the Demon Deacons will be an extremely experienced team in 2021, but so will the Tar Heels. Each of the last two seasons have featured close matchups between the two teams and it could be more of the same this year. With this game being at home, though, this is another that favors the Tar Heels and should be a win.
November 11th: @Pittsburgh
All-Time Meetings: 14 (10-4-0)
Last Meeting: 2019 (34-27 loss)
The Panthers were the other Coastal team that was removed from the Tar Heels’ schedule when it was adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and just like with Georgia Tech, this will be the second straight road meeting in the series. This will be another nationally televised game and will come on a short week, because just like every other game the Tar Heels play on the road against the Panthers, this game is on a Thursday night. The Tar Heels will still be looking to avenge the 2019 loss that was their first loss to the Panthers since they entered the ACC and this is another game that could be an important one in the outlook of the Coastal with the Panthers set to be one of the most experienced teams in the conference in 2021.
November 20th: Wofford
All-Time Meetings: 0 (First Meeting)
Last Meeting: N/A
This will be the first meeting in program history between the Tar Heels and Terriers. Wofford’s 2020 fall season was delayed, but they are set to kick off their spring season on February 20th with the rest of the FCS’s Southern Conference. The Terriers have won three straight Southern Conference championships and are one of the more consistent teams in the FCS ranks, but this should still be a relatively easy win for the Tar Heels ahead of their season finale matchup with rival NC State.
November 26th: @NC State
All-Time Meetings: 110 (68-36-6)
Last Meeting: 2020 (48-21 win)
The Tar Heels will look to continue Mack Brown success against the Wolfpack on the road in Raleigh in what could be one of the bigger games of the season. Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack are coming off of a surprising 2020 season and will be looking to extend on that and they could enter this game with a chance to make a major impact on what the Tar Heels hope will be a special season. The Tar Heels have had no problem bringing the right mindset to the last two games with the Wolfpack, though, and this year shouldn’t be any different.