Considering where we were two years ago, this is a very, very big deal. This not lost on most Heels fans; if 41-10 freaked you out and took your mind off of the big picture for a while, you’re forgiven. Just as long as you also remember 44-12, 38-12, 45-24 and 28-7 with equal intensity. Carolina has had the most regular season wins and the fewest losses since 1997, and the greatest improvement in wins since 1990.
Back in August I said I would be elated with anything above 7-5. As disappointing as the losses may have been for their own reasons, this team has made vast improvements from 2007, and as the stats show, they have been overachieving this season.
What is more impressive about the Heels the season is that they have won without much of the offensive starting lineup from August (Little, Yates, Tate, Pianalto, and two offensive linemen) for most of the season.
It is very, very important not to underestimate the level to which this team has surprised and overachieved. If you had told any fan that the Heels would win most of their games with Cam Sexton at Quarterback and Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston at tailback, that fan would have slapped you to knock the crazy out of you. And then they would have slapped you again for saying something so blasphemous. And then, just for good measure, he would have kicked you in the nuts thinking that you were a Wolfpack fan trying to trick him and probably deserved some testicular trauma. And then you would follow him to his car, write down his license plate,find out his real name, call that lawyer in Raleigh who was played by Tom Cruise in that movie, and win a $700,000 lawsuit. And the aforementioned fan would be asking God why He would allow this to happen while you get on the phone inquiring about a beach house. And then that fan would realize that the Judge’s gavel is an ice cream cone, the defendant’s chair is a thigh drawn by Salvador Dali, and outside the Courthouse Godzilla is giving kids piggy back rides for beer money. And then he will realize that this is all a dream, and no one would be so stupid as to tell him that UNC would be led to a winning season by Cam Sexton and Shaun Draughn. That is how unlikely this season’s success has been. That is how far ahead of schedule we are. That is how much UNC Football has changed in two years.
That is not to say that this season has been without its share of warts. As talented as the starting lineup is, UNC still does not have a deep enough team to avoid in-season fatigue, and it showed this November. The offense stagnated, and the defense spent way too much time on the field. And as exciting as it was to we the defense force so many turnovers, it was equally frustrating to watch the entire team struggle when the Heels didn’t win the turnover battle. UNC committed 21 turnovers on the year, of which 15 were relinquished in their four losses to only 3 turnovers forced. And the apparent allergy to blitzes hurt the Heels on many occasions, most notably the Withers Special against Virginia.
But there is much to look forward to. In all likelihood UNC can do no worse than the Music City Bowl (where, insanely enough, 2007 Champion LSU is a likely opponent). Butch Davis can stop talking about other jobs (at least until Tommy Tuberville leaves Auburn in 2009) and is poised to bring in another top recruiting class. Although you can say this about every other team I’m the Coastal division, this will be a much better team in 2009.
So how to assess 2008? Hopefully, we will look back on this season as the start of something great. The year that UNCbecomes not only a good team, but a good program.