Following the senior day overtime loss to NC State back on November 24, 2018, the Tar Heels were tasked with finding a new head coach and the challenge of getting the program back on track after a disastrous ending to the Larry Fedora era that saw the team win just six of his final 28 games. When Mack Brown was hired, some questioned where he still had it, whether he would be able to connect to the kids that he had to recruit, whether he would have enough time to accomplish what he wanted.
Now, just 757 days later, the Tar Heels have just finished putting together one of the best recruiting classes in program history and will be heading to their first Orange Bowl in program history and the first major bowl game since the 1950 Cotton Bowl. Led by a historic offensive performance this season, the Tar Heels put together an 8-3 campaign, headlined by the destruction of a 10th ranked Miami Hurricanes in the regular season final, a far cry from the 2-9 campaign of 2018.
The Tar Heels will be heading back to Hard Rock Stadium on January 2nd, this time to face one of Mack Brown’s former rivals at Texas in the Texas A&M Aggies. Heading in, this seems like a game that will matter much more to the Tar Heels than it will an Aggie team that felt they should have bound for a trip to AT&T Stadium for a rematch with Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Still, this is an extremely talented Aggies team that has won seven games in a row since losing to Alabama in their second game of the season. That streak includes a win over Florida, who possesses just as dynamic of an offense as the Tar Heels do, so they won’t be intimidated by this historic group.
One challenge that has already been rumored since last weekend is the fact that some players may decide to sit this game out for the Tar Heels. Even with this being the program’s first Orange Bowl berth, this is an NFL talent-ladened roster and with that usually comes bowl game opt outs. Right now, there is no confirmation or frankly even an estimation of who would sit this game out, but it’s something that will be a storyline heading into the game.
Saturday’s Orange Bowl bid is just latest step in an extremely quick rise right back into the sleeping giant role that the team played for much of the 90’s and during the latter part of the Butch Davis era. It’s truly amazing to think how far this team has come and it’s still a season where losses to Florida State and Virginia have Tar Heel fans wondering what if.