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UNC Football Preview: North Carolina at Virginia Tech

The Tar Heels travel to Blacksburg to take on the Hokies in the 2021 season opener.

North Carolina travels to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on Friday night as the Tar Heels kick off their most highly anticipated season since they entered 1997 ranked 7th in the AP Poll.

The last time Carolina started the season with an ACC road game was 2005 when the Tar Heels played at No. 17 Georgia Tech and lost 21-27. Not only is the matchup an ACC game right off the bat, but also a Coastal Division game. While Virginia Tech projects to be a middle-of-the-pack team in 2021, Lane Stadium is never an easy place to win.

If the Tar Heels want to ultimately square off against (probably) Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, beating Virginia Tech on the road is a big first step along the way.

With bona-fide Heisman candidate junior quarterback Sam Howell returning under center and Mack Brown now in the third year of his second stint as head coach in Chapel Hill, Carolina is primed to have its best season since falling just short in the ACC Championship game against No. 1 Clemson in the 2015 ACC Championship Game.

Carolina placed three players on the All-ACC Preseason team with offensive players QB Sam Howell and OG Joshua Ezeudu and CB Tony Grimes on defense. Virginia Tech had one player on each side of the ball in TE James Mitchell and DE Amare’ Barno.

As a reminder, due to COVID-19 the ACC did away with divisions for the 2020 season and all 14 teams (plus Notre Dame, who officially joined for the 2020 season) were together as one big conference for the first time since 2004. North Carolina finished the season No. 18 in the country, and 4th in the ACC with an 8-4 record, 7-3 in conference. Virginia Tech finished 8th in the conference with a 5-6 overall record, 5-5 in conference.

The two schools played last season on October 10 in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won a high-scoring affair 56-45. Sam Howell threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, while Michael Carter and Javonte Williams each ran for two touchdowns while combining for 384 rushing yards. Dazz Newsome hauled in seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown and Dyami Brown had three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

As you can tell from the absence of the four names above on this year’s roster, Sam Howell will have to learn to trust a mostly new crop of talent around him.

QB Braxton Burmeister (RS Jr.) will be under center for the Hokies. In last year’s matchup he was 7-15 for 79 yards and zero touchdowns and added 11 rushes for 51 yards.

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Justin Fuente is entering his 6th season at the helm for the Hokies. He holds at 38-26 record at Virginia Tech and a 64-49 overall head coaching record.

2020 marks the first time Carolina has been ranked in the preseason AP top-10 since 1997, when they were ranked 7th. This is also just the fourth time ever the Tar Heels have held such a distinction. The other two instances include 1982 (ranked 5th, the highest ever for Carolina) and 1958 (ranked 10th).

Here’s everything you need to know about Game 1 of the 2021 UNC football season:

  • #10/9 North Carolina (0-0) at Virginia Tech (0-0)
  • Blacksburg, VA.
  • Lane Stadium
  • Friday, September 3, 2021
  • 6 p.m. ET
  • ESPN

All-time series: VT leads 24-13-6

Series Streak: UNC – won 1 (10/10/20, 56-45)

Record: 0-0 (0-0 ACC)
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Florida State, '74)
Overall Record: 259-132-1, 33rd year
Record at UNC: 84-56-1, 13th year

Record: 0-0 (0-0 ACC)
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (Murray State, '99)
Overall Record: 64-49, 10th year
Record at Virginia Tech: 38-26, 6th year


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