UNC Football: Tar Heels can be national contenders in 2020

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 27: Quarterback Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws a pass in the first half against the Temple Owls in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 27, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 27: Quarterback Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws a pass in the first half against the Temple Owls in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 27, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

UNC released its 2020 football schedule on Wednesday morning, and it’s safe to say the Tar Heels are in line for a big year.

Following the return of Mack Brown in 2019, UNC will look to build off of a postseason victory in 2020. In his first year back in Chapel Hill, Brown led the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record, just one season after the program won just two games. UNC was much improved on both sides of the ball, and for a while appeared to be contenders in the ACC Coastal division. Regardless of the end result, Brown’s first year back can be labelled a massive success. Expectations will be even higher when his team takes the field in 2020.

The Tar Heel offense will feature 10 returning starters and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Sam Howell.

In his first year at the collegiate level, true freshman Sam Howell broke numerous FBS and school records, and was one of the most electric signal-callers in the sport. Howell passed for a freshman-record 38 touchdowns en route to winning ACC Rookie of the Year and being named to the Freshman All-American team. In addition, Howell finished second in the conference in passing yards, and ranked sixth in the country in touchdowns responsible for. As a result of his high-flying success, prior to the bowl win over Temple, he was given the 10th-best odds to win the 2020 Heisman according to the Action Network, and since then, his stock has only gone up. The Baker Mayfield-like prospect is quickly playing himself into first-round status.

Along with Howell, Carolina will bring back nine more offensive starters in 2020, including receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown, as well as the entire offensive line, and running back Michael Carter. Newsome and Brown became the first pair to have 1,000-yard seasons in the same year, and combined for almost 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns. Brown’s 20.9 yards per reception tied for eighth in the country, while his 12 receiving scores were good enough for 12th in all of college football. In addition, Carter, the team’s leading rusher from 2019, will be back. The rising senior is fresh off his first 1,000-yard rushing season, while racking up nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage and five scores. Beau Corrales and Javonte Williams will also be back for the UNC offense in 2020.

While UNC is losing several starters on defense, the Tar Heels will bring back senior All-ACC linebacker Chazz Surratt.

After playing quarterback for the Tar Heels in 2017 and 2018, the coaching staff converted Chazz Surratt into a linebacker in 2019. Initially, Surratt started the first four games as a replacement for a suspended player; however, he tightened his grasp on the position, and ended up not only leading the team in tackles, but also finished second in the conference. Surratt’s best game came against Virginia Tech where he had 17 tackles, including two for loss, and one sack. The following week against Duke, he had 12 more tackles, another sack, and a game-sealing interception to give the Heels their first win over their cross-town rival since 2015. His stellar season earned him first-team All-ACC honors for the first time in his career.

The converted QB will be joined by returners Jeremiah Gemmel, Tomon Fox, and Myles Wolfolk on the defensive side of the ball. The unit isn’t nearly as flashy as the team’s offense, but ranked inside the top 50 in total defense this past season. In addition to the players above, UNC will have four-star freshman Desmond Evans, who is the third-best defensive end in the 2020 class according to 247 Sports. The Heels also bring in two more four-star defensive linemen in Myles Murphy and Kedrick Bingley-Jones, as well as four-star safeties Ja’Qurious Conley and Cameron Roseman-Sinclair. All five are North Carolina natives.

The Tar Heels’ 2020 schedule looks very promising, and could lead to them being not only ACC contenders, but national contenders as well.

Like last season, UNC will face a test right off the bat in Week One, this time on the road against UCF. Now UCF isn’t the Group of Five juggernaut they were two years ago, but McKenzie Milton, who finished in the top eight in Heisman voting in 2017 and 2018, is targeting a return in 2020. It’s a game the Tar Heels should win, but if Milton does indeed play, the Knights will be playing with a huge emotional boost. Carolina’s next game will feature two of the nation’s best rising sophomores: Howell and Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. Auburn is a much better team than the South Carolina squad that UNC beat last year, but home-field advantage will most definitely play a role, and is a game that the Heels could very well steal.

UNC’s next three games feature home matchups with JMU (an FCS school), a rebuilding Georgia Tech program, and a road date with a Virginia team that will have to replace its star quarterback. All three are games that the Tar Heels should theoretically win. Following that trio, Carolina will prepare for a rematch with Virginia Tech. The Hokies knocked off UNC in the sixth overtime in 2019. The 2020 edition is shaping up to be just as exciting. UNC’s next two games are on the road at Duke and Miami, and are games the Tar Heels should win; however, rivalry games are always difficult to predict, and Miami won’t settle for another season like 2019.

Carolina rounds out the schedule with contests against UConn, Boston College, and N.C. State. The Heels should have no trouble beating UConn, Boston College is an outdated program, and the Wolfpack is coming off of one its worst seasons under Dave Doeren. As a result of all the talent on both sides of the ball, there’s a real chance UNC can win 10 games in 2020, and there’s a chance they could do even better. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them not only challenge Clemson within the conference, but also contend on a national level. Regardless, expect big things from Mack Brown and company in Year Two.