Why North Carolina Has No Reason To Play UCF

North Carolina v Pittsburgh

While the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to play conference only football, we may be closer to learning the plans of the other three Power 5 leagues.

The Athletic's Pete Thamel tweeted that AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco says he is hopeful that his teams will be able to play 12 regular season games but that he admits he is still waiting on the SEC, ACC and Big 12 to make their moves. 

Aresco needs that position because some of his best teams have scheduled games against schools in those leagues. UCF has a scheduled season opener against North Carolina on September 4th. That game would be one of the better opening weekend matchups and feature two top 25 teams and two of the better quarterbacks in the country in UNC's Sam Howell and UCF's Dillon Gabriel. The Knights also have a scheduled road trip at Georgia Tech. Should both of those games not be played it would mark the second time UCF would lost games against both of those schools in recent years. Hurricanes were the reason the first go round, now a virus could be latest.

I do not think North Carolina is scared to play UCF, but they also may have no reason to play the Knights.

Thamel also tweeted that the ACC may be leaning towards a scheduling model of 10 conference games and one additional non-conference game and delaying the start of the season into mid or late September- a similar scheduling plan to the Pac 12's model which may be finalized in the coming days. 

The ACC model would allow FSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville to keep their rivalry games against SEC teams. The SEC is considering several scheduling models but most appear to include options for one to two non-conference games.

So back to North Carolina. Mack Brown's team went 7-6 last season and Howell showed his ability to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country and many believe the Tar Heels will make another big jump this season. There is momentum in Chapel Hill and people are talking football in the summer as opposed to just how deep Roy Williams' team is in the backcourt. It's about wins for Mack Brown and playing a game in Orlando against Josh Heupel's team- with a ton returning from a 10-win team in 2019- is a game they don't need to play because......you could lose. For UCF, they want and need the game. The Knights' formula to get back to a New Year's Six Bowl is to win their league and beat P5 teams, North Carolina fits in that group. UCF needs an unbeaten year to reach the bowl goal or hope one loss still has them in the mix. For UNC? The Heels may build themselves into a team with NY6 goals but that may still be a year away because of the presence of Clemson in the ACC. And then there is the scheduling reason North Carolina doesn't need UCF.

If the ACC allows for one non-conference game, UNC has a scheduled game against Auburn in Atlanta. The UCF matchup is part of a home-and-home(did you hear that? Home and home. Not 2-for-1) and there is no money for that series. Playing Auburn in Atlanta? That's money. Auburn-North Carolina is part of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff series and Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan has stated he wants to keep all three of the planned games if possible. With no non-conference rivalry game, and if given a choice, North Carolina would choose the money game against Auburn over playing at UCF. Losing to the Tigers at a neutral site looks better nationally than going down to Orlando and getting beat by someone not in the one of the big five leagues. 

In addition, if the ACC adds two more conference games in a new scheduling model, UNC has a pool of Clemson, Louisville, FSU, Wake Forest and Syracuse among teams not currently on their 8-game slate. A road trip to Orlando, would not be a priority.

As for making up the game in future years? Good luck. North Carolina's next year with an open date is 2022. But they already have two non-conference road games and won't add a third. 2025 has an open date but UCF is already on the schedule and two play the back end of that home-and-home in 2027. 

Again, North Carolina is not afraid to play UCF or anyone for that matter. But it will come down to whether they need to play the game at UCF. And there appears to be many reasons for them to pass. Bad for UCF, who in a non-pandemic world had a sold out Bounce House waiting in what would have been an electric opening night. But in college football, it is always about doing what is best for your program and always about the money.

Side note: The view by some that P5's should only play other P5s in non-conference games this season because of virus testing and protocols is a likely scenario and it's a ridiculous view. How does anyone know if one conference/school is safer or better at testing than another? And wait until some of these scheduled conference games deal with state mandated quarantine measures for those traveling from another state. 

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