The Tar Heels were one of five teams that closed down ACC media days on Thursday, but the focus of some fans may have been on the comments from ESPN reporter Pete Thamel on Tuesday.
Thamel joined Rece Davis for the latest edition of the College Gameday podcast following the announcement from the network that the show will be in Charlotte for Week 1’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl. He said this while discussing his expectations for Gameday in the Queen City.
“I do feel like the Gamecock crew will show up. The challenge to me is the North Carolina fanbase. I feel like they would much rather have brunch with one of those Bloody Marys that has like a shrimp, bacon and probably grits on it. I don’t know if their fanbase really wants to let it rip for three hours. This is my prediction: I predict 75% South Carolina fans and it will rock.”
-Pete Thamel on ESPN's College Gameday Podcast
This left many wondering what things could look like inside Bank of America Stadium later on in the day. Using the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl wouldn’t be a fair comparison with that being the final game of an extremely disappointing season for the Tar Heels that took place on a weekday. The 2019 Belk Kickoff Classic is a much more apt comparison, but one that doesn’t instill much confidence that Tar Heel fans will put together a strong showing on September 2nd.
At the time of that meeting in 2019, the Will Muschamp era was beginning to hit its breaking point and the same could be said for Jake Bentley at quarterback. Meanwhile for the Tar Heels, Mack Brown, the greatest coach in program history was returning to the sidelines for the first time in 22 years and despite where Larry Fedora had left the program at the time of his firing, there was a lot of excitement about the future. Inside of the stadium, though, you would have thought it was the other way around with South Carolina fans outnumbering Tar Heel fans 2:1.
This time around should be different, though. Even with the excitement about Brown’s return, it was understandable that there was a lot of skepticism about that 2019 heading in with a true freshman starting quarterback (the first in program history) and the majority of the guys being a part of a group that had won just five of their previous 23 games. This time around, there are no excuses.
While it is certainly understandable that there were some things that concerned you about the team late last season and four straight losses to close the year does have the program at a bit of a crossroads, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. Despite the four-game losing streak at the end, this was just the second time since that 1997 season the team has won nine games in a season. Not to mention, Drake Maye has already established himself as the best quarterback in program history and is the team’s best Heisman shot since Charlie Justice in the late 1940s. Are there some areas of concern with this team? Yes, but it’s not like South Carolina doesn’t have their own areas of concern. I had a Tar Heel fan tell me yesterday when we broke Thamel’s comments down that they would go to the game if they thought the team had a chance to win. Folks, I can not stress this enough: this game is a winnable one for the Tar Heels.
That “fan” wasn’t the only one that reached out with an excuse as to why they can’t make it out to the game. One fan pointed to the summer heat as the reason for him choosing to stay home and watch the game and others agreed that the in-person experience is just too much of an inconvenience. The best part about this is that the game will kick off in primetime with the majority of it being played under the lights.
In terms of Gameday, the main issue is that it is too early to wake up and get out there. We have seen constant complaints for years from casual Tar Heel fans about having to show up for noon kickoffs so this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
All of these excuses are frankly embarrassing and continue to build upon my frustrations with this fanbase that I’ve had for years. The reason it is frustrating is that there are a group of diehard fans that live and die with the football program, just like they do with the basketball program. The problem is, there aren’t enough of those fans. Overall attendance has certainly gotten better based on ticket sales, but there have still been too many games in Kenan Stadium that have felt like neutral site games. In the neutral site games, it feels like the team is always at a disadvantage even with how big the Tar Heel fanbase is nationally. When the team was bad in 2017 and 2018, it was understandable. Now, there is no excuse. This team has made it to an Orange Bowl and ACC Championship in the four years since Brown returned which is more than enough to earn your commitment. It’s time to start taking pride in this Tar Heel football program, especially if you are wanting them to take the next step.
I want to believe that the Gamecock fans won’t make up ¾ of the crowd in Charlotte, but it’s hard not to be concerned that this could be the case. Tar Heel fans, show up and prove me and every one of these national analysts who say this wrong because this team deserves it.