Carolina’s opener versus Cal will be closer than you think.
As Larry Fedora enters his sixth season at Carolina, he is undefeated in home openers at Kenan Stadium. But, as Fedora has built a representative program, you also have to look at the opposition the Tar Heels have swaddled the last five years.
In 2012, Fedora debuted as UNC coach with a 63-0 whitewashing of Elon. His Tar Heels doubled up Middle Tennessee State the next season, 40-20, followed by 56-29 thrashing of Liberty in 2014, a 53-14 blowout of N. C. A&T in ‘15 and a 48-23 whipping of Power 5 opponent Illinois last season that seemed to establish UNC as a second-tier power.
Now comes the first in a new series against Cal from the Pac 12, and I promise you this one won’t be easy, for various reasons. The Golden Bears have a 37 percent chance to win according to odds makers who have installed Carolina as a 12-point favorite based on its growth into a regular bowl team.
It is also is a nightmare match-up for the Tar Heels who have an unproven, banged up offense and will rely on a more experienced defense. The Bears boast a new 3-4 defense under first-year coach Justin Wilcox with enough veterans returning to rattle UNC’s new quarterback, running backs and receivers, not to mention an offensive line hurt by injuries and defections.
Cal’s Air Raid offense will create plenty of bothersome splits for Carolina to score some points on the new sod that was laid down last night at Kenan Stadium that will hopefully be dry enough after a Friday rain to paint white lines and numbers on the field. Cal has had a tradition of wide-open attacks under six quarterbacks who went on to be first-round NFL draft choices – from Craig Morton to Steve Bartkowski to Aaron Rodgers to Jared Goff in 2015.
Although the Bears are in a rebuilding mode under Wilcox, they have enough players who have won big games in and out of the Pac 12 that they won’t come in here intimidated. The Tar Heels are pretty much rebuilding themselves after winning 19 games the last two seasons, creating a no-win situation for Fedora. If his latest edition loses, it will be far less an upset than perceived going in.