Carolina gets what might be its last chance in prime time.
The way the ACC football schedule goes, every game is on TV somewhere but the 3:30 slot has the priority. This week, with Clemson and N.C. State idle before their clash of the unbeatens next week in Death Valley, Miami gets the 3:30 ESPN2 game against Virginia.
The Tar Heels play host to Virginia Tech at 7 pm on ESPNU, likely their last night game of the season with the weather turning cold and the ACC races heating up. That means UNC will be relegated to the dreaded Noon kickoff on the regional ACC network.
Unless, of course, 1-3 Carolina can upset the 3-2 Hokies, who lost quarterback Josh Jackson to a broken ankle in week No. 4 and also their best defensive lineman. The team that lost at Old Dominion without Jackson in the four quarter is good but not great, and the 7 o’clock kickoff needs to attract a capacity crowd to Kenan.
It will also be an important recruiting showcase for Larry Fedora, who hates those noon games when the stadium is always half-empty at kickoff; some of the kids he’s pursuing are also visiting SEC schools where, no matter the venue, there is almost always a sold-out crowd.
ESPN, which unveils the long-awaited ACC Network in 2019, has control over the TV slots, and the Tar Heels are unlikely to get many more 3:30 assignments unless they suddenly turn around their season. That time will go to Clemson, State and other Atlantic or Coastal favorites for the rest of the schedule. If Duke can win at Georgia Tech Saturday and stay in the Coastal race, it’s possible the Blue Devils will play the Tar Heels at 3:30 on November 10 in Durham.
So, if you get my gist, UNC fans need to turn out big time Saturday night. Fall weather predicted, beatable opponent and with trips to Syracuse and Virginia ahead Carolina still has a chance to post six wins and sneak into a bowl game.
Otherwise, there will be more noon starts for the Heels, which means more empty seats for recruits to ponder. If you’re concerned about how that might look, it’s not good.