Every month, Jones Angell and Adam Lucas offer their opinions on a variety of issues surrounding Tar Heel athletics in Tar Heel Monthly. Today, we asked for their thoughts on Carolina's 2013 football schedule.
What's the key stretch in the 2013 schedule?
Jones Angell: I could go one of two ways on this. It's either Nov. 2-16, because that includes at State, home against Virginia, and at Pittsburgh. All three of those are conference games and two are division games. The non-division game is one of the bigger rivalry games for the Tar Heels against NC State. Not only is it a big stretch, but it's also in the back half of the year, when a team has a better idea of what it is playing for and is probably playing some of their best football of the year. That stretch seems very important to me.
I think you could also say the four-game stretch that starts at Georgia Tech and ends at home against Miami. Three of those are division games, and East Carolina is mixed in there as well.
Adam Lucas: I would narrow it down a little more and say the two-game stretch between Oct. 5-17 that includes a road game at Virginia Tech and home game against Miami. Both are division games and both are against the traditional powers of the Coastal. Play well in those games, and the Tar Heels are essentially assured of playing meaningful games well into November.
And the home game against Miami being played on a Thursday just increases the importance, because it means everyone in the country will be watching that game. It's a showcase game for a program that maybe feels like it didn't get quite the attention it deserved during the 2012 season.
What's the key road game?
AL: It has to be the Sept. 21 trip to Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels haven't won in Atlanta since 1997, and they've lost 13 out of 15 games overall in the series-some by ugly margins. You know exactly what you're going to get with the Yellow Jackets, and it's a huge benefit to have that bye week before the trip to Atlanta. One of those two Carolina wins in the last 15 years came after a bye week, and that will be a valuable tool to get ready for the triple option.
JA: I don't disagree with anything you said, but I'd also throw in the season opener at South Carolina. It's on the road in a difficult spot. It's a national television game and will have a lot of eyeballs on it. It'll be one of the first showcase college football games of the season, and if Carolina could perform well in Columbia and sneak out of there with a win, it immediately puts the Tar Heels into the national conversation as a team that is playing well and coming off a big year.
AL: I've been impressed over the winter with how much Tar Heel fans are looking forward to that game. We've gotten a lot of emails and questions about it, and I think there will be a strong Carolina turnout at Williams-Brice Stadium. It's a game with a great combination of proximity, rivalry, location and curiosity.
JA: There's also a lot of star power in that game. South Carolina has Jadeveon Clowney, who everyone believes will be the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He'll be going against a talented and veteran offensive lineman for Carolina in James Hurst. They may not match up one-on-one on every play, but they will face each other on occasion. And the Tar Heels also have a veteran quarterback in Bryn Renner, so it's a fascinating matchup.
What's the key home game on the schedule?
JA: It's the Thursday night game against Miami because of many of the things you said earlier. It's a division game against a team that has been near the same position in the standings as the Tar Heels recently. It's going to impact the standings. You know it will get attention because it's on Thursday night, and while there are other big games on the schedule, that one has to get special consideration because of the guaranteed national stage.
AL: You just don't get many guaranteed opportunities to promote the program nationally, and that's what that game will be. The Tar Heels have the chance to show that football evenings in Chapel Hill are fun, electric, sold-out nights, and that's an impression that can stick with national observers and with people of any age across the country.
Games like this have a way of forming an impression of a program. Later in the season, when people are thinking about Carolina, they're going to remember what they saw on that Thursday night, on an evening when no other games were competing for their attention. On that night, it's a show as much as it is a football game.
JA: The Tar Heels obviously lost the last Thursday home game, against Florida State. But it felt like Carolina delivered in every other area-it was a great crowd and a great atmosphere even though Florida State ultimately made a tremendous comeback. If Carolina can duplicate that night, it would be a tremendous step forward.
It's also worth mentioning that Virginia game in Chapel Hill on Nov. 9. It feels like the Cavaliers are getting back to where Mike London wants them to be. He will have a veteran team in 2013, and that could be a very important game in the back half of the season.