North Carolina had seen its record worsen every season in the first three years under Larry Fedora, going from 8-4 in 2012 to 7-6 to 6-7 in 2014. That regression had some placing Fedora on the coaching hot seat entering 2015.
Instead, Fedora and his Tar Heels are scripting one of the more underrated and under-publicized storylines of the current campaign.
The latest plot twist came Thursday night, with UNC and Pittsburgh, both undefeated in ACC play, unexpectedly tangling for control of the Coastal division. After the first two quarters, it was Heels 20, Panthers 3; after four, it was a 26-19 score that left UNC at 4-0 in league play and atop the division. Pitt, ranked No. 23 coming in, suffered its first loss against four ACC wins.
Marquise Williams was responsible for both Tar Heel touchdowns, a 71-yard pass to Ryan Switzer and a 32-yarder to Mack Hollins, with both of those coming in the second quarter. The senior totaled 322 yards of offense — 270 passing, 52 running. Switzer had a career-high 126 yards receiving, while Quinshad Davis passed Hakeem Nicks to become the leading receiver in program history.
Nick Weiler connected on all four of his field-goal attempts, with the longest coming from 39 yards out, to aid greatly in the Tar Heels’ unexpected divisional pursuit.
Notice, though, at no point thus far have I stated that UNC has complete control of the Coastal. Right on UNC’s heels, so to speak, is Duke, which will head into its Week 9 home game against reeling Miami at 3-0 in conference play. A win there would push the Blue Devils’ league record to 4-0 heading into Week 10’s game against, you guessed it, the 4-0 Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
That game, for those keeping score at home, will be for complete control of the Coastal as the winner would move to 5-0 with three league games left and leave the loser needing their conquerors to stumble twice down the stretch. And even that’s provided they don’t stub their toe again.
The race for that division is far from over, but it’s gaining clarity by the minute.