Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
At Louisville (7-6)
East Carolina (5-7)
ACC home games
ACC road games
At Wake Forest
Gut-check time: Oct. 27 vs. NC State. Does any other game on the schedule even matter this year? UNC can’t go to a bowl game or win the conference title because of NCAA sanctions, so THIS is North Carolina’s bowl game. The Tar Heels have lost to NC State five straight times. C’mon, man. Larry Fedora has a chance to do what his predecessor could not -- beat Tom O’Brien. It’s gut-check time.
Trap game: Sept. 22 against East Carolina. Those pesky Pirates always seem to give ACC teams fits.
Snoozer: Sept. 1 vs. Elon. UNC will have one week to get the kinks out under Fedora’s new schemes before travelling to Wake Forest for the first league game of the season.
Defining stretch: Can I just write Oct. 27 again? A defining four quarters? OK, OK … Oct. 6-Oct. 27 (Virginia Tech, at Miami, at Duke, NC State). At the midpoint of the season, the players should be more comfortable with the changes Fedora has made, and they will have a chance to derail the Hokies and beat their in-state rivals. Back-to-back road trips at Miami and Duke look a lot friendlier on paper than they actually will be. These four weeks will provide a good barometer of how quickly the Tar Heels have progressed under Fedora, and where they stand in comparison to the division favorites, Virginia Tech.
Final analysis: The NCAA has taken the postseason away from UNC, so the Tar Heels are playing the role of spoiler this year. They’ve got two of their toughest division opponents at home in Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and will also have home-field advantage for rival NC State. The nonconference schedule is one of the easiest in the ACC, and a bye week before facing Georgia Tech always helps in defensive preparation. UNC has been trying to get over the eight-win hump, and it couldn’t line up much better for Fedora in his first season. It’s up to him to take advantage of it.