The Tar Heel football team has been dominating teams, most recently the Duke Blue Devils, but does Carolina have a realistic shot at making the College Football Playoff?
Last weekend the Heels hosted arch-rival Duke in a pivotal battle for the ACC Coastal Division. On the first offensive play of the game for the Heels, Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams connected with wide reciever Ryan Switzer on an 89 yard pass off a flea flicker.
After the play, Williams said he heard a Duke cornerback say “this is going to be a long day,” and a long day was an understatement.
Marquise Williams threw for over 400 yards in the first half and finished with a Carolina record 494 passing yards. Williams also accounted for 5 total touchdowns.
Seven different Tar Heels found the end zone and the team accounted for over 700 total yards and 66 total points. The Blue Devil defense had given up over 30 points and 400 yards in only one game all season, and that was against Virginia Tech in a game that took four overtimes.
Carolina won the game 66-31 and has looked impressive winning 8 straight games by an average margin of almost 25 points and giving up less than 20 points in 6 of the 8 victories, but is that enough for the Heels to have a chance to make the College Football Playoff?
What’s Hurting the Heels
Strength of Schedule
Carolina has a season-long strength of schedule ranked 80th largely due to their non-conference schedule featuring two FCS teams; NC A&T and Delaware. The Heels have not played a team that is currently ranked in the top 25 although they beat Pittsburgh when they were ranked 23rd.
Georgia Tech Under Performing
Before these past two wins against Duke and Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech was Carolina’s best victory. After winning their first two games, Georgia Tech lost 6 of their last 7 games, most recently a loss to the 3-6 Virginia Cavaliers.
Georgia Tech has played a tough schedule, facing 6 straight teams who were ranked at some point during the year, but a 1-5 record against these teams and an abysmal loss against Virginia is not helping the Heels resume.
Early Season Loss to South Carolina
Carolina’s strength of schedule is not good, and their loss against South Carolina to open the season is not helping. South Carolina is arguably the worst team in one of the best conferences in college football and the Heel’s failure to finish them off is making it hard for them to gain respect in the polls.
What’s Helping the Heels
Carolina has strung together 8 straight wins with an average margin of victory of 24.75 per game. Their past two victories were against 23 ranked Pitt (at the time) and un-ranked Duke who was one accurately called lateral play from being in the top 25.
While the schedule has started slow, Carolina is in the midst of their hardest stretch. According to ESPN’s FPI ranking, Carolina’s remaining strength of schedule before the Pittsburgh game was ranked 32nd. After the Duke game their SOS is 18th in the nation not including a possible championship game against Clemson. Winning out with their schedule would be a huge boost to their resume.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
A team in a power five conference lost to a bad team in another major conference earl y in the year.
This team had an easy schedule early, but beat two ranked teams later in the year before convincingly winning their conference championship.
This was the story line of Ohio State last year. They lost to Virginia Tech early in the year, beat #8 Michigan State and #25 Minnesota later in the year and finished the season with a dominating victory against #13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.
Carolina lost to South Carolina early in the year, beat #23 Pittsburgh and should be ranked Duke later in the year. Carolina could finish the season against #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship. While the Tar Heels wins against Pittsburgh and Duke are not as impressive as Michigan State and Minnesota, a convincing win against Clemson would make up the difference.
If Clemson wins out and is #1 in the College Football Playoff Ranking and Carolina wins out convincingly like they did against Duke, the ACC Championship could be a matchup of two top 10 teams.
FiveThiryEight.com gives the Heels a 2% chance of making the playoff and a 30% chance of winning the conference.
It would take a DOMINATING multiple touchdown victory against the Clemson Tigers and losses from multiple teams ranked ahead of the Heels for Carolina to have a chance at making the playoff, but I’m saying there’s a chance.
Regardless of their chances at making the playoffs, Marquise Williams said the team is not phased.
“It’s not about the playoff or making people recognize us. It’s about keep winning football games,” Williams said.
Carolina has not reached double digit wins since 1997, but with an 8-1 record and at least four games left in the season, this streak may very likely be broken.