UNC’s jump in AP football poll gives program best 3-year rankings stretch in 39 years

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina is well on its way to earning the last ACC Coastal Division title, and the Tar Heels are also getting plenty of national attention along the way.

UNC (7–1, 4–0 ACC) jumped four spots to No. 17 in the latest AP Top 25 poll released Sunday, marking the first time the program has earned at least a No. 17 ranking at some point in three consecutive seasons since doing it four years in a row under Coach Dick Crum from 1979 to 1983.

Carolina — which peaked at No. 14 in 1979, No. 6 in 1980, No. 3 in 1981 and No. 5 in 1982 — was No. 5 in Week 5 in 2020 and No. 10 in Week 4 last season.

That stretch includes Carolina’s last ACC title in 1980, when Mack Brown was 29 years old and Iowa State’s offensive coordinator.

During Brown’s first stint in Chapel Hill, UNC was ranked No. 18 in 1992, No. 12 in 1993 and No. 13 in 1994 but that stretch didn’t top the four-year run of Crum’s teams.

UNC jumped six spots in the USA Today Coaches poll to No. 15.

The first College Football Playoff ranking of the season will be released Tuesday night at 7 o’clock (ESPN).

“For our team, it doesn’t matter till it’s over,” Brown said after his team’s fourth consecutive victory. “Nobody says where were you ranked in the eighth week of the season.”

With two more wins, the Tar Heels will get a shot at likely facing No. 5 Clemson (8–0, 6–0) in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 3 to end the league title drought. They could clinch the division title with a win at noon Saturday at Virginia (ACC Network) if Duke loses to Boston College, Florida State beats Miami and Virginia Tech beats Georgia Tech.

UNC opened as an 11-point favorite over Virginia (3–5, 1–4).

After Saturday’s game, Brown said he’d tell his team Sunday that he doesn’t want the Coastal Division, the ACC championship or the polls to be mentioned.

“Thank you for giving us some recognition,” Brown said he’d tell his team. “Thank you for playing so hard. Thank you for making this ride so much fun. But let’s not be stupid. Let’s don’t talk about things that are very unimportant. What’s important is you guys that are hurt get well or you guys behind them step up and let’s improve the things that we’re not doing well. Let’s be mature enough to say that we did these things well; we’re still not here. We got to get these things fixed to get where we want to go.”

Two ESPN projections have Carolina playing in the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl. Kyle Bonagura has the Tar Heels facing Alabama and Mark Schlabach has them meeting Illinois.

Helping Carolina move up in the poll in addition to its come-from-behind 42–24 homecoming win over Pittsburgh were losses by Oklahoma State (fell from No. 9 to No. 18 after a 48–0 loss to Kansas State), Wake Forest (fell from No. 10 to No. 20 after a 48–21 loss at Louisville), Syracuse (fell from No. 16 to No. 22 after a 41–24 loss to Notre Dame), Kentucky (fell from No. 19 to unranked after a 42–20 loss to now No. 2 Tennessee) and Cincinnati (fell from No. 20 to unranked after a 25–21 loss to Central Florida).

Voting UNC the highest in the AP poll at No. 11 is Stephen Hargis of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net has the Tar Heels No. 12 and Adam Zucker of CBS Sports Network has them No. 13.

Joe Giglio of WCMC (99.9 The Fan) in Raleigh is one of five voters, along with ESPN’s Rece Davis, who have UNC No. 14. Giglio has Wake Forest No. 18 and N.C. State No. 22.

David Thompson, the N.C. State beat writer for the Fayetteville Observer and the USA Today Sports Network, is one of 14 voters who have UNC No. 16. He has Wake Forest No. 20 and N.C. State No. 25. Steve Wiseman, the Duke beat writer for The News & Observer, has UNC No. 17, Wake Forest No. 20 and N.C. State No. 21.

The only AP voter who left Carolina off their ballot is Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Texas. Seven voters left UNC off their ballots the previous week.

According to ESPN, UNC has the 14th best “strength of record,” a metric that reflects the chance that an average Top 25 team would have a team’s record or better, given the schedule.

The Tar Heels haven’t faced a team ranked at the time of the game all season and only Wake Forest (6–2, 2–2) and No. 21 N.C. State (6–2, 2–2) are ranked among the teams left in their regular-season schedule.

AP Top 25

RankTeamChangePoll points
(1st-place votes)
1Georgia (8–0)1,528 (30)
2Ohio State (8–0)1,500 (15)
2Tennessee (8–0)+11,500 (18)
4Michigan (8–0)1,378
5Clemson (8–0)1,312
6Alabama (7–1)1,258
7TCU (8–0)1,220
8Oregon (7–1)1,135
9USC (7-1)+11,010
10UCLA (7-1)+2979
11Ole Miss (8–1)+4905
12Utah (6–2)+2876
13Kansas State (6–2)+9772
14Illinois (7–1)+3741
15LSU (6–2)+3679
16Penn State (6–2)-3641
17North Carolina (7–1)+4542
18Oklahoma State (6–2)-9513
19Tulane (7–1)+4455
20Wake Forest (6–2)-10388
21N.C. State (6–2)+3285
22Syracuse (6–2)-6205
23Liberty (7–1)136
24Oregon State (6–2)129
25UCF (6–2)111

Others receiving votes: Texas 58, Kentucky 57, Maryland 36, Cincinnati 32, Notre Dame 24, Washington 12, Arkansas 11, Baylor 9, Coastal Carolina 8, Florida State 8, Troy 7, Mississippi State 5, Boise State 4, East Carolina 2, South Carolina 2, Louisville 1, UTSA 1.

USA Today Coaches Top 25

First-place votesPrevious rankChangeHigh/
2Ohio State8–01,5051322/3
9Southern Cal7–11,018011+26/15
14Kansas State6–2713022+814/NR
15North Carolina7–1630021+615/NR
16Penn State6–2602013-310/NR
18Oklahoma State6–247109-97/18
19Wake Forest6–2437010-910/21
20N.C. State6–2386023+310/23
25Central Florida6–2890NR+1225/NR

Dropped out: No. 19 Cincinnati; No. 25 South Carolina. Also receiving votes: Oregon State 71; Maryland 64; Texas 55; Washington 52; Cincinnati 39; Coastal Carolina 25; Baylor 14; Notre Dame 11; Boise State 11; Louisville 10; Arkansas 10; South Carolina 9; Mississippi State 8; Troy 6; Texas-San Antonio 4.

ACC standings

No. 21 North Carolina3061
Georgia Tech2234
Virginia Tech1325
No. 5 Clemson6080
No. 16 Syracuse3161
No. 20 Wake Forest2161
Florida State2343
No. 24 N.C. State1252
Boston College1425

Last Thursday’s result
Virginia 16, Georgia Tech 9
Last Saturday’s results
Clemson 26, Syracuse 21
Wake Forest 43, Boston College 15
Duke 45, Miami 21
Louisville 24, Pittsburgh 10
Thursday’s game
Virginia Tech at N.C. State (12-point favorite), 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Saturday’s games
Notre Dame (2-point favorite) at Syracuse, noon, ABC
Boston College (10-point favorite) at Connecticut, noon, CBSSN
Georgia Tech at Florida State (18-point favorite), noon, ACC Network
Miami (3-point favorite) at Virginia, 12:30 p.m., ACC Network Extra (ESPN3)
Wake Forest (5-point favorite) at Louisville, 3:30 p.m., ACC Network
Pittsburgh at North Carolina (2-point favorite), 8 p.m., ACC Network

(current rank)
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNo. 19
Notre Dame
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8SaturdayW, 27–24Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami 5–1, 2–0 ACC
15SaturdayW, 38–35DurhamDuke6–1, 3–0 ACC
29SaturdayW, 42–24HomePittsburgh7–1, 4–0 ACC
5SaturdayW, 31–28CharlottesvilleVirginia8–1, 5–0 ACC
12SaturdayW, 36–34Winston-SalemWake Forest 9–1, 6–0 ACC
19SaturdayL, 21–17HomeGeorgia Tech 9–2, 6–1 ACC
25FridayL, 30–27,
2 OTs
HomeNo. 25 N.C. State 9–3, 6–2 ACC
DecemberACC championship
3SaturdayL, 39–10CharlotteNo. 10 Clemson9–4
Holiday Bowl
28WednesdayL, 28–27San DiegoNo. 15 Oregon9–5

Photo via @GoHeels


1 Comment

  1. Your column above is superb with excellent grammar usage, no errors and superior analytical statistics.

    –Mobile, UNC–CH, Class of ’78.


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