Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; No. 8 North Carolina Takes Long Road to ACC Championship Game

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; No. 8 North Carolina Takes Long Road to ACC Championship Game

Article excerpt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Eighth-ranked North Carolina's journey to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game hasn't been easy. It follows nearly two decades marked by failed coaching stints and on- field struggles, along with long-running NCAA turmoil that led to sanctions and continues to hover over the school. But after an opening-night loss appearing to signal more ups and downs ahead, the Tar Heels have been rolling as they play No. 1 Clemson on Saturday night for their first ACC title since 1980.

"There's always setbacks and always things you have to overcome, and probably more than I expected, fourth-year coach Larry Fedora said. "But you still knew what the vision was. And maybe we had to change the way we were doing some things along the way, but everybody understood what we were doing and where we were going.

Led by one of the nation's top offenses and a revamped defense, the Tar Heels (11-1, 8-0 ACC, No. 10 CFP) have matched their season record for wins and own their first 8-0 ACC mark. They followed that turnover-marred loss to three-win South Carolina with their longest winning streak in more than a century, becoming only the fourth UNC team to win 11 games.

They have a shot to make the College Football Playoff, too - if they can beat the Tigers (12-0, 8-0, No. 1 CFP).

"I think Larry's done a great job at North Carolina, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He looks like he's got them on the right track and they're going be a challenge for us this weekend.

The program had followed a winding road in the years since Mack Brown's departure for Texas in 1997, the last time UNC won 11 games or appeared in the top 10 before now.

The Tar Heels shuffled through three coaches - four counting an interim coach - in search of stability before Fedora's arrival. They won no more than eight games in 17 seasons following Brown's exit, managing nine winning records and four bowl wins.

On top of that, they vacated all 16 wins from two of those seasons due to NCAA sanctions for improper benefits and academic misconduct in a case launched in 2010. …

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