There was the sense that Carolina was knocking on the door of national-level football. Still -- losing to South Carolina and getting run over by Baylor were bookends to the reality that there is work yet to be done.
So here we are in Atlanta. Another tremendous opportunity for Larry Fedora and his team.
He'll tell you and us repeatedly that this game has zero impact on their team goals for this year, but let's be serious. He knows that letting another shot to beat a very good SEC team slip away would mean another year of second-class citizenry, whatever they're likely to accomplish in the ACC.
Fair or not, beating the SEC's upper crust is still the baseline to acceptance into the upper tiers of CFB.
Georgia surprised many by announcing Greyson Lambert as their starter earlier this week. Kirby Smart obviously opted for experience over excitement in the form of 5-star frosh QB Jacob Eason. Lambert isn't going to win the game for Georgia with his dazzling passing skills, but in concert with Nick Chubb, he's certainly got enough juice.
It all begins and ends with Chubb, one of the top backs in the country. I have trouble erasing the visions of Baylor rampaging through the Heels defense last year in Orlando.
It's a new look front seven for UNC. Can Naz Jones and Jalen Dalton plug up the middle? Can Mikey Bart and Tyler Powell contain? Andre Smith looks like a potential stalwart at middle linebacker, but will he be able to fill the gaps along with Cayson Collins and Cole Holcomb?
I trust the UNC secondary to be solid enough against a pedestrian UGA pass attack, but it all hinges on the run.
Offensively, I'm in the group expecting zero drop-off from Marquise Williams to Mitch Trubisky. You can't draw up a better succession plan than how things unfolded in Chapel Hill. I would think there's a chance Trubisky battles some first-game, big-game nerves at the very outset, but from then on, he'll produce.
Georgia had the top yardage passing defense in the NCAA last year, but in their few games against actual competent passing quarterbacks, they weren't much more than competent. Even in the absence of Mack Hollins for a half, there are plenty of weapons at Trubisky's disposal. He'll be good enough to win.
We know Elijah Hood will be present as well. Hood was barely used in last year's loss at South Carolina. I can't imagine that being an issue this time around. I don't expect any sort of monster performance from No. 34, but he'll be a factor.
Georgia's D-line is an assemblage of 300-plus-pound tree stumps, so this'll be a great first challenge for the UNC line.
So who wins?
I need to see UNC actually tackle Chubb a few times. If Gene Chizik hasn't assembled a group capable of at least slowing down the Dawgs ground attack then it is likely another long evening.
Carolina should once again have one of the most explosive and productive offenses in the country. They'll score. I think it'll be a brilliant game, and just for the sake of the story, let's say Fed's fellas kick-start another potentially memorable season with a 34-31 win.
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