Nonconference opponents and 2010 records:
James Madison (6-5)
At East Carolina (6-7)
At NC State
Gut-check game: Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech. If the Tar Heels are going to take the next step in the Coastal Division under Butch Davis, this is a must-win game. UNC was able to knock off the Hokies in Blacksburg in 2009, but have only defeated Virginia Tech once in Davis’ four seasons.
Trap game: Oct. 8 vs. Louisville. Charlie Strong has Louisville on the fast track, with a surprise winning record in his first season. The Cardinals should only be better in his second, and even though UNC has home-field advantage, it’s an opponent the Heels should be wary of.
Snoozer: James Madison. North Carolina doesn’t have to look far for a reminder not to overlook the FCS program. After Virginia Tech’s loss to JMU last year, you can all but guarantee the Tar Heels won’t let it happen again.
Good luck with that: Back-to-back games against Miami and Clemson. By mid-October, Al Golden’s team should have its identity. And by Oct. 22, Clemson’s offense should finally be in sync, and it’s never easy to win in Death Valley.
Upset watch: The Nov. 5 road trip to NC State. Tom O’Brien has had the upper hand in this series for the past four years. If Butch Davis is going to stop the streak, he’s going to have to do it in Carter-Finley Stadium, but this could be the year.
Analysis: This schedule has the potential to be full of surprises. Virginia could change the course of the Coastal Division race as early as Week 3 with a win in Chapel Hill. The road trip to East Carolina on Oct. 1 won’t be a walk-through, as NC State learned a year ago. And road trips to Clemson, NC State and Virginia Tech within a month will make for a difficult end to the season. If the Tar Heels take advantage of their home schedule early, though, they could be looking at a 6-0 start heading into the Miami game. At first glance, this schedule looks favorable, but the reality of it is that several mid-level teams will present more of a challenge than expected.
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