While UNC's early-season schedule – which ranks fourth toughest nationally, according to USA Today's Jeff Sagarin – was expected to deliver a severe test, few anticipated the Tar Heels' rough start.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora, however, has seen a positive response from his team since last Thursday's 27-23 last-second loss to No. 7 Miami.
"These guys have a great attitude," Fedora said. "They're resilient. They continue to work hard. They continue to keep believing in each other and they're going to keep fighting, scratching and clawing."
First-year Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, whose own team has encountered some difficult opponents to date, sees a quality opponent beyond UNC's record.
"They've played some really good football teams now, some very good defenses," Addazio said. "Kind of like us, sometimes when you play those good teams, it affects you. It affects your stats; it affects your play sometimes. I don't think people always take into account those things. I know they've played a lot of very, very talented teams and talented defenses. When you play those games, that can come back to you later in a positive way."
Fedora's spread offense has been grounded this season, averaging 410.7 yards (70th) and 23.5 points (94th) per game. UNC is scoring 17.1 fewer points per game than it did in 2012.
While fifth-year senior quarterback Bryn Renner (119-of-188 passing, 1,414 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT) is only 130 passing yards shy of becoming the third Tar Heel player in school history to throw for more than 8,000 yards in a career, backup quarterback Marquise Williams (28-of-43 passing, 390 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT; 95 rushing yards) has seen his playing time increase due to his running ability.
Fedora dismissed the notion that the quarterback rotation has limited his offense's production earlier this week.
"There are a lot of things that are keeping us from playing offensive football the way we want to play it, but it's not the rotation of the quarterbacks, I can assure you," Fedora said. "It's shooting ourselves in the foot, it's making mistakes, it's penalties. It's all of the little things. It's the wrong six-inch step here or a wrong six-inch step there. Those are the things that keep you from being good on offense."
Boston College counters with an offense, that while not statistically impressive – the Eagles rank 100th nationally in total offense with 352.8 yards per game – is able to lean on senior running back Andre Williams. The 6-foot, 227-pounder is averaging 139.7 yards per game on a 5.3 yards-per-carry clip behind a sizeable veteran offensive line.
"Boston College is really physical, really aggressive and they do everything right," UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said.
Saturday's contest is critical for both teams. A win would give UNC some positive momentum heading into next week's rivalry contest at N.C. State and keep hope alive for a lower-tier bowl game. For the Eagles, a win would move them within two victories of bowl eligibility with five games to play.
Addazio may as well have been talking for both programs in addressing the state of his program at the halfway point of the season.
"We are a work in progress, we've been in some tough football games ourselves and played some tough teams but what we need to do is sharpen our execution on both ends of the ball," Addazio said. "This is a new start to the second half of the season now. It's a new slate and we have to get to 1-0 right now."
UNC is looking to improve its record at Kenan Stadium to 8-3 under Fedora.