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For the first time since 2001, the Tar Heels begin the football season on the road, and at a place where it hasn’t won since taking a 16-13 decision from the Yellow Jackets in 1997. UNC is the last team in the newly expanded ACC to play a regular season game, and Tech is coming off an impressive victorious debut last weekend at Auburn.
Tech leads the all-time series, 20-17-3. Prior to Carolina’s 34-13 win in Chapel Hill last season, the Yellow Jackets had won seven straight against the Tar Heels. Carolina hasn’t opened the season on the road against a league opponent since 1992 at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels are 76-34-4 all-time in season openers.
Jackets head coach Chan Gailey, who began his tenure in Atlanta one-year after John Bunting took over at UNC, has a 21-17 (.553) record. Bunting is 19-30 (.388) at Carolina and 1-2 versus Gailey-coached teams.
Offensively, the Tar Heels return depth and experience on the offensive line and at the wide receiver positions, but will play newcomers at tailback and will feature a senior quarterback with no starting experience.
On defense, UNC has the potential to be as good as it has been since the 2001 season which was led by NFL first-round draft picks’ Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims, and included several other future pros.
Despite giving up a record 669 yards of total offense at Utah back on Oct. 16, 2004, the Tar Heel defense rebounded two weeks later and showed great improvement in its final four games of the regular season. However, UNC’s defense did appear to take a step back in the Continental Tire Bowl loss to Boston College.
This year’s team should be more balanced on both sides of the ball than in recent years, and the coaching staff has said it expects special teams to be much improved.
On the other hand, even though Georgia Tech is coming off a big win and will be on its home turf, the Yellow Jackets have gotten a reputation for letting down after nice performances. That was the case last year when No. 20 Tech entered Kenan Stadium 2-0 and coming off a stunning 28-24 win over Clemson. However, Tech was without the services of running back P.J. Daniels for much of the 2004 meeting. No such luck for the Tar Heels this time around.
This game should go a long ways in developing season momentum for both teams. For Tech, a win over UNC would “validate” the upset of the Tigers. And for Carolina, which faces what is widely regarded as the toughest schedule in the country; wins may be at a premium and most believe this contest is at the very least “winnable” for the Tar Heels.