Wednesday’s decision from the ACC regarding the 2020 schedule change has left the Tar Heels with a vacant spot on their new schedule. While there have been some rumors about who the Tar Heels could be adding to their schedule to fill the non-conference void. Two of our writers give you a look at their top three picks for who should fill that spot on the Tar Heels schedule.
There are plenty of different reasons why this sits as the top option on my list. Last year’s loss in Kenan Stadium left a bad taste in the mouths of many around the program and this would give the team the chance to enact some immediate revenge on the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers are scheduled to host the Tar Heels in 2021, so moving it up and season would open up a spot on the Tar Heels 2021 schedule for a possible rescheduled meeting one of their originally scheduled 2020 opponents. A trip to Boone would also bring some helpful revenue to a Group of 5 school in Appalachian State that has already had to make cuts to their athletic department this summer (men’s soccer, men’s tennis and men’s track). Playing the Mountaineers on the road in a limited capacity would be an advantage for the Tar Heels, as Kidd Brewer Stadium has quickly developed into one of the toughest Group of 5 environments in the country since the team entered the Football Bowl Subdivision. A win in Boone might not be seen as a résumé builder, but they are definitely going to be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country again this season and you know the Mountaineers are also wanting to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. With this being a simple switch of an opponent from next year and the Mountaineers being an in-state opening up a multitude of options when it comes to the location of the game, I think there is a good possibility we could see this actually happen.
The possibility of getting Auburn back on the schedule is an idea that many Tar Heel fans had latched on to, but with the SEC set to play conference games only in 2020, that possibility has gone out the window. However, there is another priorly scheduled opponent that would definitely be worth attempting to get back on the schedule. Both games of the scheduled home-and-home with the Knights have been postponed so far, meaning there is at least a chance that they would be willing to travel to Chapel Hill or at least Charlotte to play a game that they felt would be a statement if they could win, especially this season. For the Tar Heels, this would be a nice measuring stick to determine how far along this rebuild is already for Mack Brown and his staff. A win over Central Florida is still one of the best Group of 5 you can add to a resume even with them taking a step back last season, so don’t be shocked if the Tar Heels at least try to see if they can schedule this matchup somewhere in-state to help fill the void.
The Pirates have been a thorne in the side of the Tar Heels for the past decade, especially under Larry Fedora, but with Mack Brown now back on campus, you have to believe the Tar Heels would love another shot at East Carolina as soon as possible. East Carolina is another program that will likely be drastically affected by the lack of revenue due to COVID-19, so a trip to Greenville might be the best option here. While a win over the Pirates would be nearly as helpful to the Tar Heels resume as the other two that we have discussed above, this is still a chance to finally beat a team that has had your number during the Fedora-era and is a chance to help another in-state opponent that could really use it.
There are many different reasons, as to why playing the Mountaineers would make a lot of sense in a season like this. For starters, it would be a chance to get revenge for last year’s frustrating home loss in Chapel Hill. As Anthony mentioned, these two are scheduled to play in Boone next year, so if they move the game up a year, it’ll allow Mack Brown to schedule another Power 5 opponent, for what figures to be his best team in terms of talent, in his second stint at Carolina. Also App State has had to drop many different sports due to the lack of funding, with COVID-19 shutting down the sports world for over 5 months. Helping out an in-state school in a situation like this is a no brainer. Lastly, make no mistake, the Mountaineers are as good as a team you’re going to find at the Group of 5 level, and they have an environment more challenging than some ACC venues Carolina goes to. After winning double digit games again last year, App claims to be the best football program in the state of North Carolina, so a potential rivalry could come out of this as well. It’s going to be hard to find quality opponents with so many conferences going only conference games. With App State, Carolina gets a quality opponent as a chance to build toward a special season.
The Tar Heels haven’t played the Pirates since the final season of the Larry Fedora era, losing again to the Pirates, essentially ensuring Fedora wouldn’t be back for 2019. These two schools played frequently when Butch Davis took over in the middle 2000’s and continued to do so under Fedora, and a little rivalry developed between the two, especially as ECU won the final 3 times they’ve played. They haven’t had the same type of success that App State has experienced in recent years, but they love their football, and they love beating Carolina. Also with playing 10 conference games, getting to bowl eligibility will be tougher than usual, ECU could fit the mold of the annual FCS opponent, to get Carolina closer to postseason eligibility.
The final team is also another Group of 5 team, from the Tar Heel state. One thing I wanted to do was keep the Tar Heels as close to home, while finding either a quality opponent, or helping out the little guy in a unique season. Charlotte, last year under Will Healy went to their first ever bowl game, and had multiple selections in the 2019 NFL Draft. This is a program on the rise, and Will Healy is a rising star in the coaching ranks. While they lose some talent to the pros, there’s no reason to believe that the 49ers won’t be a competitive team this fall. These two programs aren't scheduled to meet until 2024, so moving it up wouldn’t be the worst thing to do, as they could help the Charlotte athletic department in a difficult year.