Tar Heels slide to No. 14 in AP poll, the second-largest poll drop in program history

Many questioned if North Carolina deserved the No. 5 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, even Coach Mack Brown. After a rally fell short Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla., against unranked Florida State, the stay at that lofty spot was short.

North Carolina fell to No. 14, their lowest position since being ranked No. 18 in the preseason poll.

“As far as our top-five rating, we’re ahead of schedule as a team, our recruiting is going really well, we’re playing hard, but we weren’t the top five team in the country,” UNC coach Mack Brown said Monday. “Part of that was because the Big Ten wasn’t playing yet.”

At nine spots, it’s the second-largest AP poll drop in program history behind only a 10-spot fall in 1939 from No. 7 to No. 17 after a 13-3 defeat at No. 13 Duke.

“If you are the fifth-best team in the country and you want to stay there, play better than your opponent Saturday,” Brown said. “And I told him yesterday we obviously don’t deserve to stay up and the ratings because we didn’t play well.”

UNC fell from No. 7 to No. 13 in the coaches poll.

—————————————————————————————————

Largest UNC drops in AP poll during season

10 — From No. 7 to No. 17 after a 13–3 loss at No. 13 Duke on Nov. 18, 1939
9 — From No. 5 to No. 14 after a 31–28 loss at Florida State on Saturday
8 — From No. 6 to No. 14 after a 41–7 loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 1, 1980
8 — From No. 9 to No. 17 after a 20–13 loss at No. 10 Tennessee on Nov. 2, 1946
7 — From No. 6 to No. 13 after a 20–17 loss at No. 24 Virginia on Nov. 16, 1996
7 — From No. 3 to No. 10 after 28–26 loss at No. 13 Maryland on Oct. 29, 1983
7 — From No. 6 to No. 13 after 13–7 loss at LSU on Oct. 22, 1949
6 — From No. 5 to No. 11 after 7–6 loss at Pittsburgh on Sept. 9, 1982
——————————————————————————————————

N.C. State, which comes to Kenan Stadium on Saturday for a noon game on ESPN, debuted in the poll at No. 23 after its victory last week over Duke. The Tar Heels are early 18-point favorites.

“N.C. State’s done really well,” Brown said. “I think we’ve been overrated. I think they’ve been underrated.”

News & Observer correspondent Conor O’Neill, formerly of the Winston-Salem Journal, dropped UNC from No. 9 to No. 20 and he voted the Wolfpack No. 19..Jonas Pope IV, the N.C. State beat writer for The N&O, dropped the Tar Heels from No. 5 to No. 15 and he voted the Pack No. 20. Lauren Brownlow of WRALSportsfan.com dropped UNC from No. 8 to No. 16 and she has N.C. State No. 22.

Five voters ranked UNC the highest at No. 11. Ranking the Tar Heels the lowest at No. 23 was David Jablonski of the Dayton Daily News in Ohio.

AP Top 25

RankTeamPV RankConferencePoints
1Clemson (5-0)1ACC1,542 (54)
2Alabama (4-0)2SEC1,494 (8)
3Notre Dame (4-0)4ACC1,337
4Georgia (3-1)3SEC1,300
5Ohio State (0-0)6Big Ten1,223
6Oklahoma State (3-0)7Big 121,137
7Texas A&M (3-1)11SEC1,054
8Penn State (0-0)9Big Ten1,033
9Cincinnati (3-0)8American Athletic1,028
10Florida (2-1)10SEC942
11Miami (FL) (4-1)13ACC887
12Brigham Young (5-0)14IA Independents875
13Oregon (0-0)12Pac-12841
14North Carolina (3-1)5ACC677
14Wisconsin (0-0)16Big Ten677
16SMU (5-0)17American Athletic638
17Iowa State (3-1)20Big 12511
18Michigan (0-0)19Big Ten489
19Virginia Tech (3-1)23ACC411
20Kansas State (3-1)22Big 12399
21Minnesota (0-0)24Big Ten234
22Marshall (4-0)Conference USA227
23North Carolina State (4-1)ACC199
24USC (0-0)25Pac-12192
25Coastal Carolina (4-0)Sun Belt185

Others receiving votes:Memphis 76, Oklahoma 74, Tulsa 58, West Virginia 57, Auburn 48, Iowa 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 40, Liberty 37, Utah 36, UAB 30, Army 29, Arkansas 15, Air Force 14, Kentucky 12, Tennessee 11, Virginia 9, Arizona State 9, Washington 8, South Carolina 8, Indiana 4, Texas 1.

Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes.

Pool photo by Don Juan Moore

Carolina can’t recover from first-half struggles, runs out of time at Florida State

By R.L. Bynum

There were hints that North Carolina’s young and thin defense had flaws during the first two games of the season. When Virginia Tech scored 31 second-half points last week, it became more apparent but was masked by a productive offensive game.

In Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday night, there was no hiding the No. 5 Tar Heels’ defensive woes after UNC gave up 31 points for the second consecutive half. 

With Carolina’s usually potent offense unable to get going until it was too late in the second half, Florida State (2–3, 1–3 ACC) had its best game of the season in a 31–28 victory over the Tar Heels. A terrific second-half effort from UNC’s defense wasn’t enough.

“The second half is a team we want to be,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “In fact, that’s the best we probably played as a team all year in the second half and as poorly as we’ve played together in the first half.”

Javonte Williams nearly did it all for UNC (3–1, 3–1), with 119 rushing yards, 67 reception yards and two touchdowns, but he couldn’t catch a fourth-down pass from quarterback Sam Howell with 35 seconds left that could have set up a potential game-tying field goal.

Javonte Williams had 119 yards rushing, 67 reception yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

“We dug ourselves in a huge hole at halftime,” Brown said. “I thought we would come back and settle down and win the game in the second half. We had our opportunities and we turned the momentum.” 

The Tar Heels’ defense shut out FSU in the second half but the 24-point hole was too big to overcome. UNC simply ran out of time to complete what would have been the largest comeback in program history.

“I challenged them at halftime and said you are what you’re going to play like the second half as a team for the rest of the year,” Brown said. “They played as hard as they could possibly play the second half.”

Once the Seminoles knew late in the game that Carolina had to pass, it made it even more of a challenge to protect Howell.

“When you’re one dimensional and have to throw it every time, we’re not great at pass protection. We know that,” Brown said. “That’s why we run the ball so much and have play-action. They were blitzing some and tried to get Sam off his rhythm. When we get one dimensional against really good athletes, we’re not as good.”

Howell finished 20 of 36 for three touchdowns and one interception. He threw for a season-high 374 yards, which was his second-highest total of his career.

Florida State quickly turned a blocked punt into a 23-yard Jordan Travis touchdown run in the first 2:20 of the game. Travis connected with Daniel Preston on a 58-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter to set up a 24-yard Ryan Fitzgerald field goal to put the Noles up 10–0 with 12:59 left in the first half. 

After the Seminoles stopped Williams on a fourth-and-one at the FSU 25, they drove 75 yards in nine plays, with Travis diving in from a yard out for a touchdown. UNC’s next drive ended when Joshua Kaindoh intercepted a dump pass from Howell and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to make it 24–0 with 2:46 left in the first half.

Williams finally got UNC points on a 1-yard run around the right side with 1:02 left in the first half but FSU came right back with a 75-yard, five-play drive. A 12-yard TD pass from Travis to Camren McDonald with 17 seconds left made it 31–7 at halftime.

Needing points badly, Howell couldn’t connect with a heavily covered Dazz Newsome on a throw to the end zone on fourth down after going 74 yards on 10 plays. 

Howell made up for it on the next two drives. He threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Williams and a two-point conversion pass to Walston, then a 33-yard TD pass to Beau Corrales to cut the deficit to 31–21 with a second left in the third quarter. 

Trey Morrison’s interception on the last play of the third quarter gave UNC a golden chance but Grayson Atkins was wide left on a 44-yard field-goal attempt. After making 6 of 7 attempts from 40 to 49 yards and one of two tries from behind 50 yards last season at Furman, he’s missed all three tries of 40 or more yards this season.

Dyami Brown pulled UNC within one score with a 25-yard touchdown reception with 4:58 left.

The Tar Heels try to rebound at home next Saturday against rival N.C. State at noon on either ESPN.

Florida State 31, No. 5 North Carolina 28

Pool photos by Don Juan Moore

Tar Heels’ ‘publicity is ahead of where they are on the field,’ Brown says

By R.L. Bynum

Since the offseason hype started about North Carolina football, Mack Brown has been the rare coach who embraces the high expectations.

Even as the Tar Heels reached No. 5 in the AP poll for the first time since 1997, there still are skeptics about whether they are that good. You can count Brown in that group even as he appreciates the accolades that his team has earned.

He should know because he’s been there before. The last time UNC was No. 5 in the AP poll was in Brown’s final season of his first Chapel Hill stint in 1997. 

“We’ve still got a lot of things that we’ve got to fix. Our publicity is ahead of actually where we are on the field,” Brown said on Wednesday.

The Tar Heels (3–0, 3–0 ACC) are double-digit favorites for their 7:30 game Saturday night at Florida State (0–3, 1–3), their third consecutive game to air on ABC. UNC beat now No. 23 Virginia Tech 56–45 last Saturday.

“I don’t want to take away what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “It’s really hard to win any game. So, I’m really, really proud of them. And, therefore, the voters that are voting think they deserve it, so they deserve it. My point is, we’ve got to play better defense.”\

There are big differences between this year’s team and that 1997 team that ascended to No. 4 on Oct. 18 and finished 11–1. Those Tar Heels were experienced, deep on defense and coming off a 10–2 1996 season that included four consecutive weeks in the AP top 10, three of those in November.

“We had been good for a long time,” Brown said of that 1997 team. “We’re ahead of where I thought we would be at this time. But we don’t have enough experienced and key positions on defense.”

If UNC were to still be undefeated heading into November and still be ranked this high, that would impress Brown a lot more than doing it after only three games. He wonders why there are even rankings this early and applauds the College Football Playoff committee for waiting until Nov. 17 to release its first standings.

“I’m not saying we aren’t deserving. I’m saying let’s look at it at game eight,” said Brown, who calls polls at this time of year “more for hype and media than they are for real. That’s why I think the College Football Playoff started doing theirs late. And I’ve always felt like that’s when it matters.”

At No. 5 in the AP poll, North Carolina’s football program is in rare company with schools that routinely rise to that level such as No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia or No. 4 Notre Dame. Brown points out that those programs can beat any team on any given Saturday.

“People don’t consider us in that group yet,” Brown said. “We haven’t proved that we’re a team that’s ready to line up and win every game every week.”

UNC is committing the second-most penalties in the ACC at 9.7 per game and has the most penalty yards per game in the league at 91.3 yards. Carolina is last in the league in turnovers created and third-to-last in turnover margin per game at -1.

UNC’s Dazz Newsome draws an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after scoring a touchdown Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Can Carolina win against a good team with the number of penalties they’ve committed each week and the inability to force turnovers? Brown would rather fix those issues than get the answer.

“My job is to make sure they understand if they beat Florida State, it stays,” Brown said of the high ranking. “You don’t win this weekend, life changes fast, and you got to head right back to N.C. State.”

He’s tried to keep his players from letting the No. 5 ranking give them a big head and lead them to forget how they became 3–0. Brown says there are no perfect teams out there, his team included.

“Let’s don’t get up in the clouds and start thinking this stuff’s easy,” Brown said of what he’s told his players. “You got here because of hard work and continue to do it. The higher that number is next to your name, then you become the hunted. Last year, nobody cared about us. Nobody said, ‘Boy, this bunch looks pretty good.’ We slipped up on a bunch of people. That’s not going to happen this year. So, the guys have to understand that.” 

Now is the time for the Tar Heels to prove to their skeptics, and their coach, that they belong in that elite company near the top of the AP poll.

Pool photos by Robert Willett

Streaking Tar Heels leap to No. 5 in AP poll

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

Some wondered when North Carolina entered the top 10 in the Associated Press poll last week if the Tar Heels’ rank was a little high. After an impressive victory over Virginia Tech, there are fewer skeptics and more poll voters are taking notice.

UNC jumped three spots and is No. 5 in the latest AP poll released on Sunday after a 56–45 home victory Saturday over the Hokies, who fell two slots to No. 21. The Tar Heels have won their last six games, the longest streak since winning 11 in a row in 2015.

That’s the highest rank in the AP poll since UNC was No. 5 on Oct. 30 and Nov. 8 in 1997, the final season of Coach Mack Brown’s first coaching stint in Chapel Hill.

“It’s fun. It’s good for recruiting it’s good for our fans to do have some bragging rights and we haven’t been rated for a long time,” Brown said Monday. “Really, I’ve always told the players until the college football playoff polls come out probably be in November this year that that’s the first time I even look at the polls.”

The first College Football Playoff rankings don’t come out until Nov. 17. UNC is No. 6 in the coaches poll, up three spots. The Tar Heels are No. 9 in ESPN’s SP+ rankings.

The ACC has three teams in the top 5 for the first time in league history with No. 1 Clemson, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 North Carolina.

Brown likes being in the top 10 “neighborhood” and earning their right to be there.

“We talked to the guys about how we need to buy a house in this neighborhood,” Brown said. “We haven’t been here much. We’ve been visiting the first couple of weeks in the top 10. But that’s like we want to be. But have we earned it yet? And that’s what we talked to them about each week.”

North Carolina coach Mack Brown has the Tar Heels in the top 5 again just like in the last season of his first coaching stint in Chapel Hill.

Two teams ahead of the Tar Heels in last week’s poll lost: Miami (was No. 7 and now No. 13 after a road loss to No. 1 Clemson) and Florida (No. 4 last week but now No. 10 after a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M).

Half the teams ahead of UNC in this week’s poll play each other with No. 3 Georgia visiting No. 2 Alabama. No. 1 Clemson plays at Georgia Tech and No. 4 Notre Dame is at home against Louisville.

All of the North Carolina voters in the panel put UNC in their top 10: Conor O’Neill, a correspondent for The News & Observer, had the Tar Heels No. 9, Jonas Pope IV of The N&O voted UNC No. 5 and Lauren Brownlow of WRALSportsfan.com put UNC at No. 8.

Voting UNC the highest at No. 4 was Brooks Kubena of The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La. Voting the Tar Heels the lowest at No. 12 were Nate Mink of the Syracuse Media Group and Theo Lawson of the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.

LSU became the first reigning national champion to fall out of the poll in nine years.

The Tar Heels are early 10-point favorites at Florida State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in a game to be televised by ABC.

Associated Press Top 25

RankTeamPV RankConferencePoints
1Clemson (4-0)1ACC1,546 (59)
2Alabama (3-0)2SEC1,463 (2)
3Georgia (3-0)3SEC1,430 (1)
4Notre Dame (3-0)5ACC1,317
5North Carolina (3-0)8ACC1,190
6Ohio State (0-0)6Big Ten1,152
7Oklahoma State (3-0)10Big 121,069
8Cincinnati (3-0)11American Athletic971
9Penn State (0-0)9Big Ten970
10Florida (2-1)4SEC904
11Texas A&M (2-1)21SEC883
12Oregon (0-0)12Pac-12817
13Miami (3-1)7ACC790
14Auburn (2-1)13SEC703
15Brigham Young (4-0)15IA Independents693
16Wisconsin (0-0)16Big Ten633
17SMU (4-0)18American Athletic522
18Tennessee (2-1)14SEC463
19Michigan (0-0)20Big Ten417
20Iowa State (3-1)24Big 12405
21Louisiana-Lafayette (3-0)23Sun Belt342
22Kansas State (3-1)Big 12302
23Virginia Tech (2-1)19ACC199
24Minnesota (0-0)25Big Ten177
25USC (0-0)Pac-12124

Others receiving votes:Marshall 106, North Carolina State 87, Oklahoma 71, Tulsa 62, UCF 57, Boston College 43, Coastal Carolina 38, UAB 29, Utah 29, Iowa 28, West Virginia 25, Army 21, Memphis 12, Air Force 12, Ole Miss 6, Arizona State 6, Texas 5, Houston 5, LSU 5, Washington 4, Missouri 2, TCU 2, Virginia 2, Louisiana Tech 2, Indiana 1.

Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first place votes.

ACC teams in bold.

Pool photos by Robert Willett

Tar Heels in NFL: Trubisky benched in Bears win; big plays for Ebron, Boston

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

Mitch Trubisky’s good start that helped the Chicago Bears get off to a 2–0 start took an unpleasant turn for the former Tar Heels quarterback Sunday against the winless Atlanta Falcons.

The good news for Trubisky is that the Bears moved to 3–0. The bad news is that he was benched in the third quarter and it was backup Nick Foles who rallied Chicago from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 30–26 victory.

Trubisky was 13 of 22 with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham before Falcons cornerback Blidi Wrey-Wilson stepped in front of Graham for an interception. That interception nearly four minutes into the second half led Bears coach Matt Nagy to bring on Foles to end Trubisky’s day.

Foles got off to a slow start but finished 16 of 29 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. You have to figure that Foles will start next week against the Indianapolis Colts.

Nagy said wouldn’t answer after the game when asked who would start against the Colts: “We just want to enjoy the win tonight,” he said. At Nagy’s press conference on Monday, though, he named Foles the starter.

Here’s what Trubisky had to say after the game:

Trubisky showed his versatility earlier in the game with a 45-yard run, which was Chicago’s longest play of the game.

It was a better day for tight end Eric Ebron, who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers move to 3-0. He caught five of the seven passes thrown to him for 52 yards and a 10-yard touchdown reception. He also had a 17-yard reception.

The Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston made a nice play to knock away a potential game-winning pass to Keenan Allen in the end zone to help preserve their 21–16 road victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

How Tar Heels fared in the NFL in Week 3

Idle Tar Heels fall one spot in the AP poll to No. 12, thanks to big wins by Miami and UCF, return of Big Ten teams

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

North Carolina’s season has been on a two-week holding pattern and it appears to have cost the Tar Heels in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Carolina fell one spot, checking in at No. 12 in the new poll released Sunday afternoon.

Expect UNC to keep dropping even with wins in the coming weeks as more voters start to consider Big Ten and Pac-12 schools. In the preseason poll, Ohio State was No. 3, Penn State was No. 7, Oregon was No. 9 and Wisconsin was No. 12.

The Buckeyes returned to the poll at No. 6 and Penn State was back at No. 10, contributing to the Tar Heels’ drop. Also a factor was Miami jumping from No. 12 to No. 8 after blowing out Florida State 52–10 and Central Florida going from No. 13 to No. 11 winning 51–28 at East Carolina

Without the ability to impress Associated Press poll voters on the field, North Carolina’s only chance of moving up in the poll was to have teams above the Tar Heels lose and hope that teams just below them weren’t impressive.

Two teams lost ahead of the Tar Heels and fell behind them: Oklahoma (No. 3 last week but No. 18 this week after a 38–35 home loss to unranked Kansas State) and reigning College Football Playoff champion LSU (No. 6 last week but No. 20 this week after a 44–34 home loss to Mississippi State).

Two other teams that were ahead of Carolina in last week’s poll escaped upset bids: Texas (No. 8 last week but No. 9 this week after a 63–56 overtime win over Texas Tech) and Texas A&M (No. 10 last week but dropped to No. 13 this week after a 17–12 victory over unranked Vanderbilt).

Carolina won its only game of the season 31–6 at home on Sept. 12 against Syracuse. The Orange is 1-2 after winning at home 37–20 against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Tar Heels are scheduled to finally play again at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Boston College (2–0), which rallied at home Saturday to beat Texas State 24–21. The game will air on ABC.

AP Top 25

RANKTEAMPV RANKCONFERENCEPOINTS
1Clemson (2-0)1ACC1,542 (55)
2Alabama (1-0)2SEC1,473 (3)
3Florida (1-0)5SEC1,324
4Georgia (1-0)4SEC1,310
5Notre Dame (2-0)7IA Independents1,231
6Ohio State (0-0)Big Ten1,169 (4)
7Auburn (1-0)8SEC1,133
8Miami (3-0)12ACC1,045
9Texas (2-0)8Big 12862
10Penn State (0-0)Big Ten840
11UCF (2-0)13American Athletic743
12North Carolina (1-0)11ACC734
13Texas A&M (1-0)10SEC705
14Oregon (0-0)Pac-12651
15Cincinnati (2-0)14American Athletic646
16Mississippi State (1-0)SEC590
17Oklahoma State (2-0)15Big 12555
18Oklahoma (1-1)3Big 12535
19Wisconsin (0-0)Big Ten510
20LSU (0-1)6SEC401
21Tennessee (1-0)16SEC377
22Brigham Young (2-0)18IA Independents295
23Michigan (0-0)Big Ten277
24Pittsburgh (3-0)21ACC248
25Memphis (1-0)17American Athletic196

Others receiving votes: Virginia Tech 195, Louisiana-Lafayette 126, * Minnesota 110, * USC 104, Kansas State 60, SMU 37, Marshall 31, Baylor 22, * Iowa 16, * Utah 14, Virginia 12, Arkansas State 11, UAB 5, Washington 4, Kentucky 4, Louisville 4, Army 3.

* Big Ten or Pac-12 schools that didn’t appear in last week’s poll.

Pool photo by Robert Willett

Tar Heels in the NFL: Trubisky leads Bears to 2-0 start, is top performer so far this season

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

As a Chicago Cubs fan, I follow a lot of Chicago Bears fans on Twitter for their Cubs tweets/coverage even though I’m not a Bears fan.

It’s an understatement to say that Bears fans and reporters on that beat have been highly critical of second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Some of the tweets make me wish that his family stays off Twitter.

For the first three quarters of the Bears’ Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions, there was constant chirping about the former UNC quarterback’s performance. In the fourth quarter of that come-from-behind 27–23 victory and through most of the Bears’ 17–13 home win over the New York Giants on Sunday, that strangely ended. There were even tweets giving him credit.

He’s got the Bears off to their first 2-0 start since 2013.

His performance has easily been the best in the NFL so far this season for former North Carolina players. Here’s a look at how the former Tar Heels are doing:

UNC up to No. 11 in AP poll, its highest ranking since rising to No. 8 in 2015

By R.L. Bynum
@rl_bynum

Even though North Carolina’s game with Charlotte got canceled, the 1-0 Tar Heels still moved up in the latest Associated Press Top 25 football poll, thanks to Oklahoma State’s struggles.

The Tar Heels went from No. 12 to No. 11, which is the program’s highest rank since it was No. 8 heading into the 2015 ACC championship-game loss to Clemson.

Oklahoma State won its opener over Tulsa 16-7, but the Cowboys’ struggles led AP voters to drop them from No. 11 to No. 15, allowing UNC to slide up one slot.

North Carolina's Javonte Williams (25) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown to give the Tar Heels' a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter against Syracuse on Saturday.

Another ACC team to jump in the poll was Miami, which moved from No. 17 to No. 12 after the Hurricanes’ 47-34 road victory over Louisville.

The Tar Heels obviously stand to drop a few notches once Big Ten schools are eligible for poll consideration when that conference’s season starts late next month.

Carolina may have to depend on the misfortune of others to move up more in the poll next week. The school said Sunday that it was unable to schedule a game for next Saturday. For now, the Tar Heels’ next game is on Oct. 3 at Boston College.

AP Top 25

RANKTEAMPV RANKCONFERENCEPOINTS
1Clemson (2-0)1ACC1,523 (59)
2Alabama (0-0)2SEC1,458 (1)
3Oklahoma (1-0)3Big 121,368
4Georgia (0-0)4SEC1,320
5Florida (0-0)5SEC1,239
6LSU (0-0)6SEC1,221 (1)
7Notre Dame (2-0)7ACC1,200
8Texas (1-0)9Big 121,037
8Auburn (0-0)8SEC1,037
10Texas A&M (0-0)10SEC972
11North Carolina (1-0)12ACC883
12Miami (FL) (2-0)17ACC816
13UCF (1-0)14American Athletic771
14Cincinnati (1-0)13American Athletic720
15Oklahoma State (1-0)11Big 12693
16Tennessee (0-0)15SEC529
17Memphis (1-0)16American Athletic510
18Brigham Young (1-0)21IA Independents405
19Louisiana-Lafayette (2-0)19Sun Belt374
20Virginia Tech (0-0)20ACC350
21Pittsburgh (2-0)25ACC315
22Army (2-0)22IA Independents296
23Kentucky (0-0)23SEC230
24Louisville (1-1)18ACC115
25Marshall (2-0)Conference USA108

Others receiving votes:Baylor 89, West Virginia 59, SMU 57, TCU 30, Virginia 30, Boston College 23, Arkansas State 20, Mississippi State 6, UAB 5, Texas Tech 5, Ole Miss 4, Appalachian State 3, UTSA 2, Troy 1, Coastal Carolina 1

UNC jumps to No. 12 in AP poll, thanks to Big Ten, Pac-12 teams

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

In the strange world of 2020, North Carolina jumped six slots Sunday in the latest Associated Press college football poll. The rise has nothing to do with the Tar Heels’ performance in a 31-6 opening-game victory Saturday over Syracuse.

UNC, which was ranked No. 18 in the preseason poll, is No. 12 in the latest poll, thanks to six teams ahead of them that exited the poll because they aren’t playing (as of the moment) in 2020.

It’s the highest ranking for UNC since the Tar Heels were No. 10 after the 2015 regular season. In December of that season, Carolina was No. 8 before losing to Clemson in the ACC championship game.

The reality is that the Tar Heels’ rise is because of the six teams no longer in the poll.

The teams that were ahead of UNC in the preseason poll exited not because they lost but because they aren’t playing. The AP instructed poll voters to consider every school eligible for their preseason ballots regardless of whether they planned to play in 2020.

That meant that six schools ahead of Carolina in the preseason poll, all in either the Big Ten or the Pac-12, are now out of the poll: Ohio State (previously No. 2), Penn State (No. 7), Oregon (No. 9), Wisconsin (No. 12), Michigan (No. 16) and Southern Cal (No. 17).

The Tar Heels (1-0) face Charlotte (0-1) at 3:30 Saturday at Kenan Stadium in a game that regional sports networks will air. UNC is an early 28-point favorite.

AP college football poll

1Clemson (1-0)11,524 (60)
2Alabama (0-0)31,456
3Oklahoma (1-0)41,361
4Georgia (0-0)51,324
5Florida (0-0)81,237
6LSU (0-0)61,236 (1)
7Notre Dame (1-0)101,155
8Auburn (0-0)111,055
9Texas (1-0)141,033
10Texas A&M (0-0)13983
11Oklahoma State (0-0)15927
12North Carolina (1-0)18892
13Cincinnati (0-0)20647
14UCF (0-0)21632
15Tennessee (0-0)24528
16Memphis (1-0)495
17Miami (FL) (1-0)463
18Louisville (1-0)387
19Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0)377
20Virginia Tech (0-0)368
21Brigham Young (1-0)357
22Army (2-0)243
23Kentucky (0-0)238
24Appalachian State (1-0)237
25Pittsburgh (1-0)157

Others receiving votes: Baylor 146, West Virginia 81, Georgia Tech 69, TCU 49, Virginia 39, Arkansas State 33, SMU 32, Iowa State 14, Mississippi State 14, Boise State 6, South Florida 6, Ole Miss 5, Texas Tech 5, UAB 4, Missouri 3, Air Force 2, Florida State 2, Marshall 2, Houston 1.

Pool photo by Robert Willett

Williams kick-starts Heels as they blow past Syracuse in final quarter

By R.L. Bynum
@RL_Bynum

For three quarters, the shaky play of North Carolina’s offensive line couldn’t block out doubts about the high expectations for this Tar Heels team.

The line couldn’t contain blitzes, and quarterback Sam Howell many times had trouble recognizing them. But the Tar Heels finally wore down that Syracuse defense with the relentless power running of Javonte Williams and the elusiveness of fellow running back Michael Carter.

After only scoring 10 points in the first three quarters, No. 18 UNC used three fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Williams to turn a tight game into a blowout and a 31-6 season-opening victory in front of a mostly empty Kenan Stadium.

“We felt like it’s probably a great opener for us because there’s a lot of things we’ve got to fix,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “And, at the same time, they can see that we have a chance to be really good. Now there were so many positives that we can build off of.”

It took only 5:23 of the fourth quarter for Williams to give UNC a comfortable lead with a 1-yard play to start the quarter and 6-yard runs with 11:33 left and 9:37 left. Carter broke loose for a 45-yard run on one of those scoring drives and finished with 78 rushing yards.

The Tar Heels (1-0) were a fourth-quarter team a year ago when they outscored opponents 120-51 in that quarter. It was 21-0 Saturday. 

Howell blamed mistakes for the slow start.

“We kind of weren’t playing like ourselves in the first half. They were doing some different things on the defensive side of the ball. So, we just had to adjust a little bit at halftime,” Howell said. “We were killing drives with one play, one mistake. We’ve got to stay consistent and play clean football every drive. Because we’d have one bad play kill the drive, that’s what was happening a lot in the first half. So, we need to make sure we stay consistent and just play consistent football.”

Howell finished 25 of 34 for 295 yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions. It was the first game of his college career without multiple touchdown passes, ending the longest active streak in the FBS.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) warms up before UNC’s season-opening victory over Syracuse.

Depth is an issue on an offensive line that played without left guard Joshua Ezeudu, who Brown said may play next week against Charlotte.

Howell said Syracuse forced UNC to change their game plan.

“With their secondary, they’re playing really deep,” Howell said. “They’re kind of bailing on everything, so we knew our deep game wasn’t really going to be there. So, we had to take the underneath stuff because that’s what they were giving.”

Howell had success throwing to his running backs with Williams catching one pass for 22 yards and Carter pulling down six passes for 60 yards.

“I honestly like catching the ball more than running because it’s just like a lot of space on the edge,” Williams said. “And usually when you catch a ball, you just really have to make one person miss.”

The strong fourth quarter wasn’t new for UNC. Scoring three rushing touchdowns after scoring only 13 last season wasn’t as expected.

“I think we just had to get back in our rhythm,” said Williams, who had 57 rushing yards on 14 carries. “We hadn’t really got tackled since December, so we had a lot of time off. We just had to get back in our rhythm. In the second half, we just came together and made plays.”

Williams is the first player to rush for three touchdowns in an opener since Ronnie McGill did it against William & Mary in 2004.

Howell had his bad moments, including when he threw into double coverage on a pass early in the third quarter that Andre Cisco intercepted. That produced a 24-yard field goal from Andrew Szmyt. Howell had two passes intercepted after only throwing seven interceptions during his freshman season.

“I was trying to look the safety off and I thought I did a good job with that,” said Howell, who had the most passing yards by a UNC quarterback in an opener since T.J. Yates threw for 412 yards against LSU in 2010. “I went to the right side of the field, so thought I would be able to get it to Dyami [Brown]. I shouldn’t have thrown the ball, even though I tried to look them off. But they made a good play and I’m gonna learn from them.”

Brown did have a game-high 94 receiving yards on six catches.

Grayson Atkins

Furman transfer kicker Grayson Atkins, a graduate student, pushed UNC’s lead to 10-6 on a 31-yard field goal with 3:18 left in the third quarter before Williams ignited the fourth-quarter surge.

UNC’s defense, led by linebacker Chaz Surratt’s nine tackles, recorded seven sacks and brought a better pass rush than a year ago. There were several play-makers in addition to Surratt, with defensive back Myles Wolfolk and linebackers Kaimon Rucker and Jeremiah Gemmel all collecting five tackles.

“I really thought that the defense played well throughout the game. Wish we would force for some turnovers, we’ve got to do a better job in that area,” Mack Brown said. The lone turnover was a Giovanni Biggers interception. “I think the biggest difference in our defense is that we’re two deep. And we have fresh legs.” 

The six points Syracuse scored were the fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since Duke scored six on Nov. 7, 2009. The Orange’s 202 total yards were the fewest by an ACC opponent since Boston College’s 198 in 2009.

It took UNC 10 plays and just over four minutes to turn the game’s opening drive into an 11-yard touchdown pass from Howell to tight end Garrett Walston.

A tipped Howell slant pass was intercepted on Carolina’s next drive, giving Syracuse the ball at the UNC 31. Carolina’s defense didn’t allow a first down on the drive, though, stopping the Orange on a fourth-and-short.

Dazz Newsome tested UNC’s defense again when he muffed a punt, which Syracuse recovered at the UNC 21 early in the second quarter. Carolina quickly forced a field-goal attempt, which Szmyt made from 37 yards out not long after Atkins hit the left upright with a 50-yard attempt.

Now it’s on to another home game next Saturday in a mostly empty stadium against Charlotte, which lost its opener at Appalachian State.

Game summary

Pool photos by Robert Willett