Coaches like to say “play ‘em one at a time.” But, truth is, if the Tar Heels don’t beat East Carolina Saturday, their season is going down the tubes. At least the kind of season we had all hoped for.

At 1-2, Carolina has lost where it was expected to lose. Sure, without a fumbled punt in Columbia and a couple of bonehead moves from the field to the replay booth in Atlanta, the Tar Heels might be 3-0. And we’d already be drinking the BCS Kool-Aid.

But in most years, you are not winning at South Carolina and (for 17 years) at Georgia Tech. And, so far, this Carolina team is not even close to Larry Fedora’s first group on both sides of the ball. Not that it all can’t be corrected in time.

Fortunately, the same schedule that has killed ticket sales at Kenan Stadium this fall can also help the home team over the long haul. The Heels should be good for 7 wins – ECU, BC, UVa, Pitt, ODU and DOOK beyond the MTSU victory already in.

Despite scholarship limitations and the need for “more better” players as my Southern friends like to say, Fedora still has enough talent on hand to, at worst, finish 7-5 and get into some Podunk bowl on the ACC alignment list.

But the important results should be in before Election Day. The big season we’re all hoping for will come down to three games – all of them winnable. At Virginia Tech next Saturday, home to Miami on the second Thursday night game ever in Kenan and at N.C. State on November 2.

Again, I say, this all has to be kick-started by a butt-kicking of old ECTC Saturday. Sure, the Pirates play fast and throw the ball all over the lot, but wouldn’t you rather face that style than the teeth-gnashing trickery of Georgia Tech? It should be like a vintage Roy Williams ballclub playing a less-talented team that also likes to run. Over 40 minutes (or in this case 60), it shouldn’t be close.

vtgtweirdhelmetSo then it’s on to Blacksburg, which used to be known as Blackhole for visiting teams. The Hokies, pretty horrible the first month of the season, pulled off a stunning upset in Atlanta Thursday night by suffocating the Georgia Tech offense and winning 17-10. They now have nine days to prepare for Carolina, which all of a sudden has become a critical Coastal Division game.

To play for the ACC Championship in Charlotte, the Tar Heels probably have to win out the rest of their ACC schedule and hope someone else knocks off Georgia Tech. But at least they have a chance after VaTech did them a HUGE favor. Now they must take care of business in Blacksburg, where they won as recently as 2009. That’s step one.

Step 2 is against The U on ESPN in Kenan on Thursday night, October 17. Miami has already beaten Florida in Coral Gables and slaughtered Savannah State 77-7 in the perfunctory payday for the small school Tigers (who, by the way, also lost 66-3 to Troy, which is Duke’s opponent Saturday. Do I smell a Wagner at the Wally?) The Hurricanes visit 0-3 South Florida Saturday and then play host to Georgia Tech on October 5 when we should know just how good they are.

If Carolina and Miami win that weekend, the Tar Heels will be playing the ‘Canes for first place in the Coastal – at home where Fedora teams have lost only once. So you see where I am going here, which didn’t seem possible just two days ago.

Step 3 comes November 2 at the Wolfpack of new coach Dave Doeren. Even with the respectable loss to Clemson last week, State does not have the speed and talent to match the Tar Heels. And the Pack has gone away from departed coach TOB’s pro-style passing game, which will help UNC’s oft-helpless secondary.

So there you have it. If Fedora is on track to build a powerhouse program at Carolina, backsliding to a losing season is not an option. Sure, they will play them one at a time, but you can count on seven wins. If so, the games with VaTech, The U and the Wolfies will be the difference between 8, 9 or 10, a better bowl game and possibly a shot at the Orange in the last year of the BCS.