Kenan Stadium awaits; how many fans will be there?

What’s your over-under on the attendance Saturday?

Playing at home on Labor Day Weekend has always been a dicey proposition for UNC football. Not in terms of win or lose, the Tar Heels generally play a non-conference patsy they pound in their opener. It’s the atmosphere – or lack thereof – that can be a killer.

The laissez-faire attitude of many Carolina football fans is as old as the tall pines around the most scenic stadium in America. The fall sport, though it signals the start of a new school year, is not greeted with the same intensity as Tar Heel basketball, when fans battle traffic before the game and are generally more jacked up when they get to the Dean Dome.

Football weekends in Chapel Hill are more a chance to visit the old campus, attend alumni events and walk down memory lane in so many ways. And, oh yes, there is a game; shall we mosey over to the stadium? That is, if people do come to town on Labor Day, the official end to the summer.

The first weekend in September is more a last chance for North Carolinians to go to the beach or the mountains and not a football game. We know this is just the start of football and there will be at least five more home games, if not six. So the attendance at Kenan is notoriously sparse on Labor Day.

Larry Fedora noticed it early on, when he debuted as Carolina’s coach against Elon in 2012. The team won big but the Kenan crowd was small, not anywhere close to a sellout. After experiencing that and other early-season home games, Fedora decided that he was not going to invite any big-time recruits until the ACC games when more seats are filled.

If UNC is recruiting against an SEC school, half-empty stadiums don’t impress. In the SEC, stadiums are generally packed no matter when the games are played. That’s a contagious atmosphere for young players who have their choice between going there or somewhere more casual.

So the 2017 opener against Cal is a tough crowd to predict. The Bears are no patsies and should be a worthy opponent. But the game is not a sell-out and without a strong walk-up crowd, lots of silver will be showing in the old lady in the pines. UNC often estimates attendance; I’ll guess 45,000.