This game has a different outlook for Syracuse than the previous five for many reasons. We’re going to see what the Orange look like off a loss for the first time. In additionally, SU battles a ranked foe for the first time all season in No. 14 North Carolina. What makes the Tar Heels so deadly?
Even though UNC is primarily known as a football school, it’s been relatively consistent on the gridiron. With the exception of an abysmal 5-18 stretch in 2017-18, the Tar Heels have always found themselves in between six and nine wins since 2010. They’ve never been anything otherworldly, but they can still beat any team on any given day. This year’s Carolina squad could finally reach that 10 victory threshold- the only ranked opponents it sees this year are Miami and Duke and both those games are in Chapel Hill. The strength of schedule isn’t the best, but the talent level on and off the field is prevalent.
HEAD COACH MACK BROWN
In a generation where talks of great coaches are dominated by Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, and Kirby Smart, Brown does not get the love he deserves. The 72-year-old has been on the job for 35 years, with stops at App State, Tulane, a first venture to North Carolina, and Texas before landing his current role. Brown led UNC to multiple 10-win campaigns in the 90s and took the Longhorns to a pair of national title games, winning one in 2005. Dino Babers said as much in his press conference this week- few guys are as well traveled in college football as Brown.
QB DRAKE MAYE
You cannot talk about 2023 Tar Heel football without mentioning Maye’s name. His list of accolades is very long. Third-Team All American. Reigning ACC Player Of The Year. Preseason ACC Player Of The Year. A consensus top pick in 2024 NFL Mock Drafts. This is just in his second year as the starter, too. Maye’s 5:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t anything special, but his pin-point accuracy and pocket awareness make him as lethal as he is. Babers said that Maye is probably the best QB SU faces all year, you’d be hard-pressed to dispute that statement.
RB OMARION HAMPTON
Maye shares the wealth among his receiving threats, but Hampton is the top dog when it comes to running the football. In a pass-heavy offense, the sophomore racked up 234 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in a game against App State a few years ago. Syracuse did a good job containing the run as the Clemson game went on, but Army’s triple option in the first half wore the defense down (particularly early on). Hampton is a bigger back and not necessarily the fastest, but it’s game over if he finds green grass.
LB CEDRIC GRAY
North Carolina’s offense makes most of the headlines when it is featured by the national media, but that’s not to say there aren’t studs on defense. The senior has been all over the place for the Tar Heel defense with a team-leading 34 tackles, five quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery, as well as 3.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Gray is also a threat in pass coverage as well, with a pair of pass breakups. Gray doesn’t excel in one particular category, but does a little bit of everything, and that makes him a force to be reckoned with.
DB ALIJAH HUZZIE
Huzzie is undisputedly the anchor of the Tar Heel secondary. The junior has a pair of interceptions on the year and is tied for the team lead with four pass breakups. Huzzie also has 17 total tackles, including a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry to boot, showcasing his ability to potentially blitz when necessary. Garrett Shrader has been a little interception prone with four picks in five contests, if anyone can add to that tally it’s Huzzie.
What a test the Orange have in front of them with North Carolina’s lethal offense. The defense isn’t nearly as intimidating, but beating a top-15 team on the road is much easier said than done.