Striving for 9 (or More) Wins

Striving for 9 (or More) Wins

GREENSBORO, N.C. – It’s been 17 years since North Carolina won nine or more games and finished the season ranked in a Top-25 poll.

Marquise Williams had just turned five years old when Carl Torbush took over for Mack Brown and led UNC to a 42-3 dismantling of Virginia Tech in the 1998 Gator Bowl. The Tar Heels finished that season with an 11-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the final coaches poll (No. 6 AP).

The fourth-year junior quarterback understands the football tradition that Coastal Division rivals Virginia Tech and Miami have built over the years and the respect that level of success demands. He’s also aware that UNC has fewer than six wins per season since 1997 and fewer than eight over the last six years.

“A lot of people, when they talk about Carolina, they don’t talk about Carolina as a football school,” Williams told reporters at the ACC Kickoff media event at Grandover Resort on Sunday. “That’s what ticks me off about the whole situation. Nobody shows respect, so we’re going to go out this year and we’re going to try to earn our respect. We’re going to change things around.”

On Monday, ACC media will fill our their preseason ballots for the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, as well as ACC Championship Game predictions. While UNC has earned a healthy amount of preseason hype – ESPN tabbed the Tar Heels as the Coastal favorite – Monday’s vote will provide some insight into how seriously the conference’s media pool is taking its chances this fall.

Regardless of the vote, however, the Tar Heels are elevating their own expectations. During a recent workout session, Williams decided not to break the huddle with the standard “ACC Coastal” saying. He instructed his teammates to yell “ACC Champs” instead.

“We’re tired of being overlooked,” Williams said. “We don’t want to be that program that other teams say, ‘Oh, we’ve got North Carolina on the schedule, that’s an easy win.’ We want a team to look at that schedule and say, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to be ready to come and play against these guys.’”

This is not a fresh mindset that hasn’t been tested. According to Williams, the demoralizing 27-23 loss to Miami last fall “opened their eyes.”

Upon entering the locker room after that Thursday night loss, veteran leaders such as Bryn Renner, Tre Boston and A.J. Blue were crying while trying to process the defeat. A 1-5 start is often the downhill turn needed for a free fall, but those players didn’t allow their intensity to wane. Instead, their effort level only increased in the following week’s practices, Williams said.

The days were gone when practices occasionally contained elements of playtime. The Tar Heels finally began to practice like they played, setting in motion a 6-1 close to the season.

“If somebody messed up, it wasn’t a coach getting into a player,” Williams said. “It was a player getting into another player as far as letting them know what to do to be better.”

That approach carried over into the offseason.

“I think the personality of our team now is everybody depends on each other,” junior bandit Norkeithus Otis said. “We play together as a unit. It's not about me or him, it's about us as a football team.”

The reality of the situation in Chapel Hill is not lost on this group of players. Ryan Switzer sent separate letters to fans and his teammates this week urging support and demanding more success.

The goals haven’t changed – go 1-0 each week, win the Coastal Division – but Williams acknowledged that the team is aware that the win threshold has been kept too low for far too long.

“We don’t want to win just eight games,” Williams said. “We want to win nine games or 10 games.”

It took Larry Fedora four years to top the eight-game plateau in his first head coaching gig at Southern Miss. His Tar Heels seem convinced that he's one year ahead of that pace in Chapel Hill.

 

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