Perhaps the longest fall in Carolina football history has come to a merciful end.

The Tar Heels have had bad seasons before, most of them to begin what turned out to successful coaching reigns of Bill Dooley and Mack Brown or the start of troubled tenures for other UNC football CEOs.

The season that ended with Saturday’s chippy loss at N.C. State must be considered an aberration, since it was a by-product of the NCAA scandal that damaged recruiting and unprecedented injuries to an already thin squad. Larry Fedora’s mission now is to ramp up recruiting and fix the holes that plagued Carolina’s offense and defense in 2017.

Because so many players performed gallantly, some tough decisions lie ahead. And it starts with the quarterback position. The Tar Heels no longer have a five-star recruit coming in, and how this season ended cannot be how the next one begins. Unless Nathan Elliott has a miraculous off-season improving his passing skills, he cannot be Carolina’s QB of the future.

The two quarterbacks who were supposed the run the offense — Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt — both ended up on the bench behind Elliott. Harris was a one-year grad student whose college career is over. Surratt, who had a promising start to his red-shirt freshman year, was pounded into submission after a broken offensive line could not protect him.

The good news is that the season-ending injury list gave players experience before their time, and they got on the field with veterans who hopefully helped make them stars, or at least starters, of the future. This will give Fedora surprise depth as he attempts to restock the roster with quality recruits.

How his team fought over the last three games should give everyone in the program, coaches and players, incentive to work harder than ever this off-season to be ready for 2018.  Perhaps Elliott will return as a far more accurate passer or Surratt will be fully recovered and win back the position behind a healthier line.

But with the prospect of dipping from an annual bowl team to a losing program, the puzzle must be put together without delay. Fedora needs a solid recruiting class that knows it has an opportunity to play sooner than later, and after winning again sign future classes that want to challenge for championships, not be known as mere rebuilding blocks. Another one of these seasons just won’t do.