It was a fairly easy mistake to make, writing off North Carolina after the Tar Heels’ season-opening loss to a South Carolina team that has struggled ever since. After all, we’ve all gotten used to the Heels failing to meet preseason expectations so why look for much out of Larry Fedora’s team this year.
But in the weeks since, UNC has reeled off four straight victories, the most recent against a Georgia Tech team once considered a dark horse College Football Playoff contender, and is as much a favorite to win the jumbled ACC Coastal Division as anyone.
North Carolina has now scored at least 38 points in every game since the 17-13 loss to the Gamecocks and the 21-point comeback to beat the Yellow Jackets on Saturday set a school record.
With quarterback Marquise Williams leading the way the Tar Heels offense is capable of the kind of explosions that should worry any defensive coordinator in the ACC. Williams pulled off the spectacular feat of leading North Carolina in passing, rushing and receiving in the 38-31 upset of Georgia Tech.
It’s early, but UNC’s first win at Georgia Tech since 1997 creates a situation where it’s not at all far fetched for the Coastal championship to come down to November’s rivalry game between North Carolina and Duke.
Of course the Tar Heels need to stay consistent. Early in the game with UNC trailing 21-0 it was fair to wonder if Williams might soon lose his starting job. He’d been benched the week before in a win over Delaware and the slow start had UNC fans in fits.
But the fifth-year senior rebounded in a big way. North Carolina should be significant favorites at home against Wake Forest and Virginia in its next two games. That could set up a key Coastal matchup with Pittsburgh.
“He was a beast today,” Fedora told reporters after the game when asked about Williams. “You know, he took a lot of criticism last week. Everybody questioned him out there on the outside. And he did what he can do.”
Doing what he can do made him the ACC Offensive Player of the Week and could have him in the mix for season honors if he keeps it up.
Not that anyone expects Williams to lead the Tar Heels in every category week in and week out, but if he can continue to be a true dual threat with limited mistakes, the North Carolina offense should continue to score a lot of points.
Perhaps the unprecedented comeback signals a new era for the Tar Heels. For most of the past decade UNC has had impressive stretches during seasons, only to falter at one point or another. If North Carolina is going to snatch a spot in the ACC Championship Game it can’t afford a letdown against the Demon Deacons or Cavaliers.
But those kinds of games have traditionally tripped up the Heels. The division is there for the taking, what remains to be seen is if North Carolina finally the kind of team that will reach out and grab it.