By R.L. Bynum
Two weeks after Virginia shoved North Carolina onto the Top 25 football poll exit ramp, Sam Howell impressively navigated a victory and directed the Tar Heels down the on-ramp — at least in the coaches poll.
After being left out of the Top 25 for two consecutive weeks following Carolina’s 44–41 loss at Virginia, Saturday’s 59–53 comeback victory over Wake Forest was enough to earn the Tar Heels a No. 24 ranking in the latest coaches poll.
UNC didn’t make the AP poll for a third consecutive week, again garnering the 26th-most poll points.
In the coaches’ poll, UNC took advantage of then-No. 19 Southern Methodist’ loss to unranked Tulsa. Tulsa grabbed the No. 25 spot in the AP poll but failed to make the coaches poll.
Voting UNC the highest at No. 15 is Aaron McMann of MLive in Ann Arbor, Mich. Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times has the Tar Heels No. 18 and Soren Petro of WHB in Leawood, Kansas, voted them No. 19.
None of the three North Carolina voters in the AP poll included the Tar Heels on their ballots.
For his record-breaking day against Wake Forest, Howell is the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week. and the Athlon Sports Offensive Player of the Week. He threw for a school-record 550 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown, giving him a Kenan Stadium-record seven accounted for.
The bad news for UNC (6–2, 6–2 ACC) is that it no longer controls its ability to make the ACC championship game because Notre Dame (8–0, 7–0) beat Boston College a week after defeating Clemson.
Even if Tar Heels navigate the challenging final two weeks of their ACC season, at home against No. 2 Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 27 and the game at No. 12 Miami (8–1, 7–1) that has been moved to Dec. 12, they wouldn’t make the ACC championship game without some unlikely help.
In addition to winning those two games, UNC needs the Irish to lose a second game. That’s highly unlikely Dec. 5 at home against Syracuse but host Wake Forest may have an outside shot Dec. 12. Don’t bet on it, though.
The even more unlikely possibility is getting into a two-loss tiebreaker with No. 4 Clemson (7–1, 6–1) if the Tigers were to lose one of their remaining games: at Florida State on Saturday, at home against Pittsburgh on Nov. 28 or at Virginia Tech on Dec. 5.
AP Top 25
Others receiving votes: North Carolina 101, SMU 20, Utah 17, Washington 15, Arizona State 9, Boise State 6, San Jose State 5, Appalachian State 5, Nevada 3, Iowa 2, Buffalo 1, UCF 1.