With the College Football Playoff still sitting at four teams for the foreseeable future, we’ve seen a trend around college football of contenders scheduling more challenging out of conference games to help build résumés worthy of CFP selection. While we’re not yet saying that the Heels are one of those teams that can be considered a contender, we thought we would challenge a couple of staff members to pick an out-of-conference opponent they would like to the Tar Heels face that they would find intriguing and that would provide a strong test over the next few years. Despite the Tar Heels facing fellow ACC member Wake Forest in a game that was deemed out-of-conference this past year, the ACC will not be included in this article. Again, this is just who our writers would like to see and are purely just based on opinion.
This was tough because there wasn’t really one specific team that stuck out. The history with Maryland, a former ACC foe, is notable, but it’s not historic enough where it’s impossible to pass up. Ohio State was a series that was supposed to happen in 2017 and 2018, but luckily that was cancelled. While it would likely be much more competitive now than it would have been in those two seasons, it still feels like that might be a little much for Carolina at this time. Ultimately, my decision came down to Wisconsin or the Wolverines, but I’ll go with Michigan. Even with all of the success that Wisconsin has had in recent years and the struggles that Michigan has had, it still feels like a win over the Wolverines feels like a bigger accomplishment. Heading to the Big House would be a very tough, interesting test for the Tar Heels and the matchup with a Wolverines team that thrives defensively would be a good test for a Tar Heel team that will likely be seen as an offensive powerhouse for years to come. While it would definitely be a stiff test, this still feels like a series that the Tar Heels would have a good chance in and would be one that would earn Carolina a lot of respect.
Josh: Penn State
This was the toughest conference to choose from, because there are endless options to pick from. Lifelong Carolina fans are going to say Maryland, because of the time spent in the ACC. But Maryland hasn’t been very competitive in the Big 10, and that rivalry was always more intense on the basketball side.Ohio State felt like a mismatch, because that program is on another level even for their standards, which is impressive to say the least. Wisconsin & Nebraska were options as well, but I landed on Penn State. Carolina hasn’t played the Nittany Lions since 1943, having won their only contest. Since the end of the Paterno Era, Bill O’Brien & now James Franklin have done a tremendous job rebuilding that proud program into a consistent contender. Happy Valley is widely considered one of the best places to watch a game, and while Carolina probably wouldn’t get the “white out” experience, playing in front of over 100,000 fans is still an experience of a lifetime.
This is probably the most obvious of all of my selections, but there are just way too many storylines here to ignore. The most obvious of course would be Mack Brown’s return to Austin, a place where he had some much success, including bringing Texas a national championship. The series could also be seen as a changing of the guard of sorts amongst the contenders with the Tar Heels trending up and the Longhorns trending down. DKR-Memorial is still a tough place to go and win despite the struggles to return to national contention and Tom Herman still feels like one of the young coaches who has an extremely bright future. Much like Michigan, this team isn’t quite the powerhouse that they were at one time but any win against them is still seen as a big win. This is one series that we would definitely love to see, especially sometime during Mack Brown second tenure as the Tar Heels head coach.
This one was easy for many different reasons. Playing Texas means you’re playing a high profile program, that’ll garner you national recognition if you happen to win the game. While this isn’t the same Texas we saw dominate the Big 12 with Vince Young and Colt McCoy, Tom Herman has guided the Longhorns to a New Year’s Six bowl game, and recruiting is on the uptick. It also means you’ll be playing in one of the most storied venues in the country, and bringing a name like Texas into Kenan Memorial Stadium, would bring excitement we’ve never seen. Add in the relationship that Mack Brown has with the Longhorns, and this is a no brainer. You’d have to wonder if Mack would even want to play a series with Texas, Roy Williams has been adamant that he’d never take his basketball team to Kansas, or vice versa. Despite only having a 3-6 record against UT, this series would be a no brainer, and a win-win for all involved.
The Tar Heels record against the Trojans is one of those fun anomalies and I think it would be worth testing. Utah received some strong consideration here, as did Oregon, but the Trojans are in a very similar position to the two teams that I’ve selected above. While they haven’t quite been the powerhouse program that they have been in the past, their still one of the most prestigious programs in college football history and of the three programs that I’ve selected so far, has seen the most consistent success as of recently. This is another series, like the one against Texas, that could serve as a pseudo changing of the guard amongst playoff contenders, although USC’s current 2021 might say something different. The trip to the West Coast would be a tough challenge and while LA Memorial Coliseum is not seen on many of the “toughest places to play” lists, it still provides a nice challenge.
The easy answer here is probably USC & UCLA. Both programs have tradition within the sport, and both are home to two of the best settings in all of college football. But recently both programs have struggled to remain relevant in the national conversation, which is why I went with Oregon. Carolina has never played the Ducks, so it would be a new opponent for the Tar Heels. Oregon has a lot to offer in terms of national exposure, as they’ve been in the College Football Playoff, and appeared in multiple Rose Bowl games, so this would be a good measuring stick to see where the program is at. Autzen Stadium is a tough & unique environment to try and win a football game, and while the Ducks aren’t known for having a traveling fan base, bringing Oregon to Chapel Hill would make for a fun environment. Also it would be a lot of fun to see the uniform combinations both programs could use, if they ever were to play one another.
This is another conference where there are so many great options. Alabama feels like just too tough a test at this time and while Georgia and Auburn would be nice matchups, the Tar Heels’ recent meetings with these two in Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Games takes some of the excitement out of these matchups. LSU and Florida have really strong cases, but I think the recruiting aspect in the matchup against Tennessee is just too much to ignore. The Tar Heels and Volunteers are two of the hottest teams on the 2021 recruiting trail and both have historically battled for top recruits in the state of North Carolina. The two sides wouldn’t be considered rivals, but there is definitely some hatred between the two fanbases. Just like all of the other teams that I’ve selected, the Volunteers have had some struggles in recent years living up to lofty expectations, but because of their history, any win is still seen as a significant one on any resume. If Jeremy Pruitt can continue his momentum that he built last season, Tennessee could once again become a player in the SEC East, a risk that the Tar Heels should be willing to take. The last time the Tar Heels had a home-and-home scheduled with the Volunteers, Tennessee backed out, but this is still the opponent in the SEC that makes the most sense for the Tar Heels to play in coming years.
This would’ve been fun to see when Larry Fedora was still in town, with how much emphasis that stuff put on recruiting in the Sunshine state. The SEC a lot like the Big 10, had plenty of options to choose from. Alabama is too steep, a challenge, and while LSU would be fun, they are just coming off a national championship, and there’s still a lot of talent left in Baton Rouge. I ultimately decided between Tennessee & Florida, and went with the Gators. Dan Mullen has rebuilt the Florida program into a national contender in his first two years in Gainesville. Like every team I’ve chosen, Florida has history in the sport, and they are home to one of toughest venues in college football. The Gators also provide a chance for Carolina to see where they stack up against one of the premier programs in the country. In return they’d bring a lot of buzz and excitement to Chapel Hill on their return visit. Having a win against Florida on your resume would add instant credibility, which you need playing in the ACC Coastal, and put your name in consideration for the College Football Playoff, which is the ultimate goal.