CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The 21st-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels enter their opener coming off one of their best seasons in more than two decades — one that included a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
That despite finishing the 2022 season on a four-game losing skid.
“It’s not a card I’m playing, it’s facts,” coach Mack Brown said heading into the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. “We won nine games and got less respect than a lot of people that won less than that because of the way we finished. … You’ve got to win games in this business. It’s a bottom-line business. If you don’t win, you don’t get credit, and you don’t deserve credit. So that’s just the way it is.”
UNC’s nine wins last season marked only the second time the program has reached that total since Brown’s first tenure ended in 1997.
Maye, a redshirt sophomore, enters the year as the Tar Heels’ unquestioned star, and he’s working under a new coordinator in Chip Lindsey. Maye is a big reason 45 NFL scouts from 24 different teams have been credentialed for the game, according to Duke’s Mayo Classic officials.
South Carolina enters the game just outside the AP Top 25, and a win will likely get them in.
The clock ticks as UNC awaits word on whether transfer wide receiver Devontez Walker from Kent State will be cleared to play.
The NCAA has denied the waiver for Walker to play immediately, citing revised rules limiting waivers for two-time transfers. The school has appealed for Walker, an in-state product from Charlotte who was projected to be Maye’s top target.
Walker enrolled at North Carolina Central but never played there as the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the fall 2020 season at the Championship Subdivision level, while the team opted out of a limited 2021 slate. Walker has cited family reasons in his UNC transfer, notably an ailing grandmother who had played a large role in raising him but has been unable to travel out of state to see him play.
South Carolina will again call on Dakereon Joyner against the Tar Heels, just not as a quarterback.
Joyner, in his sixth season, was 9 of 9 for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 38-21 Duke’s Mayo Bowl win over North Carolina in this same stadium in 2021. On Saturday, Joyner will work at running back after switching to the position when the Gamecocks lost three of their top four rushers from a year ago.
“I still have some growing to do, I’m not perfect at all,” Joyner said of the switch. “But I’m growing to trust my training, my coaches, trust my eyes. I’ll be OK.”
Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer tempered his words when asked if he’s surprised that quarterback Spencer Rattler was not receiving the same attention as other top passers in college football like Maye.
Rattler has thrown for a combined 58 touchdowns and 24 interceptions during his time at Oklahoma and South Carolina.
“Spencer’s play on the field will speak for itself,” Beamer said. “Frankly, it’s pretty disappointing just to see maybe the lack of respect on the outside. But again, we worry about what we can control and I’m excited for Spencer.”
ANOTHER BALL COACH?
New Gamecocks offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will get his first shot at calling plays in college.
One of the play-callers Loggains most admired was former Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. Are there similarities between Loggains and the Ball Coach? “Yeah, I think both of them have a great understanding of defenses,” Beamer said. “How to attack it.”
Rattler said he’s more comfortable playing in Loggains’ offense.
“I feel like it suits me a lot better,” Rattler said. “I’ve got a coach who’s coached a long time in the NFL and I feel confident in him.”
UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik knows things must change in Year 2 of his tenure.
The Tar Heels struggled most of last season, surrendering 30.8 points and 436.5 yards per game — including a 40-point fourth quarter in a shootout win at Appalachian State. The only positive was UNC had a bit more bend-don’t-break success down the stretch, holding teams to 25.8 points in ACC play.
UNC enters the game following an emotional week at the Chapel Hill campus after a shooting left a faculty member dead and put the school on lockdown Monday. UNC canceled three days of classes and the team called off two interview sessions with reporters, although the Tar Heels continued to practice.
No. 21 North Carolina vs. South Carolina in Charlotte, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Line: UNC by 2 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: UNC leads 35-20-4.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Tar Heels open the season with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Drake Maye and expectations to contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference race. They’ll face the Gamecocks near the border between the Carolinas, taking on a Southeastern Conference opponent looking to increase their win total for the third time in as many seasons under Shane Beamer.
Maye versus the Gamecocks’ defense. Maye threw for 38 touchdowns and was the nation’s only 5,000-yard player in total offense last season in his first full year as the starter. He’ll face a South Carolina defense that is retooling after losing seven starters from a unit that ranked in the bottom third nationally in total defense (404.7 yards) and scoring defense (28.8).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
South Carolina: RB Dakereon Joyner. The last time Joyner faced the Tar Heels in Charlotte, he was dazzling at quarterback and threw a touchdown in a 38-21 Duke’s Mayo Bowl win after the 2021 season. This time, the sixth-year player enters as a running back to bolster a position that lost three of its top four runners from last season.
UNC: LB Cedric Gray. Gray finished with 145 tackles at the heart of last year’s defense and joined Maye as preseason Associated Press All-America second-team picks.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Gamecocks have won seven of nine meetings over the past four decades, including a 38-21 win two seasons ago in Charlotte at the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. UNC’s wins came in 1991 during Mack Brown’s first coaching tenure, then in the 2019 opener to start Brown’s second tenure with the Tar Heels. … UNC is coming off a curious season, which included a six-game winning streak to reach the ACC title game and then four straight losses to end the season. … The Tar Heels struggled defensively last season by surrendering 30.8 points and 436.5 yards per game, though they got that scoring figure down to 25.8 in ACC play. … This is the third time in nine seasons the teams have met in Charlotte to open the season, with South Carolina taking the first of those in 2015. … This will mark the fourth straight ranked opponent for the Gamecocks going back to last season, a program first.