Larry Fedora's debut season at North Carolina was about as successful as fans might hope -- the Tar Heels finished 8-4 overall and would have represented the Coastal Division in the ACC title game were they not prohibited from postseason play by NCAA sanctions.
2013 North Carolina schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
With those penalties now behind them, the Heels can focus on a real push for an ACC title, but they will have to survive a front-loaded schedule to make a serious run at a championship. Their season begins with a road game at South Carolina, getting the toughest contest on the slate out of the way right off the bat.
When UNC steps into conference play, things won't get a whole lot easier. Their first three league games come against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami; each of those teams could conceivably end up winning the division, and all of them are projected to be as good or better than UNC. North Carolina will have to face the Techs on the road, to boot. That's no small task, but thanks to the talent that Butch Davis left behind -- and Fedora's early recruiting success -- North Carolina is good enough to win those games.
Once they move beyond Miami in mid-October, everything becomes manageable; the back half of the schedule provides the Heels with an opportunity to put together a winning streak. They probably have some room for error early on -- 5-3 was good enough to win the Coastal last year -- and if they take care of business down the stretch, perhaps they'll find their way to Charlotte for something other than the Belk Bowl.