Andy: 911 - Heels' turnaround is calling

North Carolina will brandish its first 1-0 record since 2000 when it travels to Virginia this weekend. Saturday is Sept. 11; a horrific memorial in the nation's history. However, 9/11 marked a turning point of sorts in the early stages of John Bunting's tenure as the Tar Heels' head coach.

Immediately following the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, most of the media was already in place for what was to be just Bunting's fourth scheduled press conference as Carolina's new head coach.

The Tar Heels started 0-3 that year; having already lost on the road at Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas. However, lowly Southern Methodist represented a comforting salve that was next up on Carolina's agenda.

But, due to the events in NYC and DC, the visiting Pony Express was replaced with league powerhouse Florida State. Surely UNC was destined for a 0-4 start – an incidence that might have eradicated the Tar Heels' last bowl appearance.

The rest is Carolina lore. The Tar Heels came back from a two-point halftime deficit to demolish the Seminoles 41-9, and went on to end Bunting's inaugural campaign winning seven of their last nine games, culminating in a 16-10 Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.

Could the now ill-famed date again denote such a change in what some believe is the most important juncture of the beleaguered coach's Division I coaching career?

Virginia won't let that happen.

Carolina's continued defensive ineptness will likely not allow its burgeoning offensive explosiveness to make the difference.

If the Tar Heels are able to upset the 16th ranked Cavaliers; and in the process snap an 11-game losing streak at Scott Stadium; then that was indeed Noah I saw at the hardware store last night looking for some galvanized 16-penny nails.

According to the weather experts, Hurricane Frances' grip on the East Coast will be long gone by kickoff. However, the Cavaliers will continue to keep its oldest rival in check when the Tar Heels make their bi-annual trek up US 29 on Saturday.

So do a Carolina loss and a potential 1-1 start represent reason for panic?

Here's a breakdown of the Tar Heels' season, as I see it:

UNC plays an 11-game regular season; but there is a viable scenario that could extend its list of opponents to 12 – albeit by way of a sanguine stretch on my part.

William & Mary, Wake Forest and Duke are games the Tar Heels must win. One is in the bag, although it took four unanswered second-half touchdowns – three rushing by Ronnie McGill – to gain Bunting his first season-opening victory at Carolina.

Wins at Wake and Duke will certainly be no "gimmies," but if UNC is going to do more than just mail in another two-, three- or four-win season; then these are "must wins."

So in this scenario, that's three wins.

Now realistically, barring a surprise of mammoth proportions, along with Virginia, even those blinded by the most opaque Carolina Blue peepers would agree that UNC has little chance of winning at Florida State or in its gutsy-scheduled Homecoming match-up with Miami.

That adds up to three losses.

And while most would chuck in the Oct. 19 game at Utah among the un-winnable games on its brutal slate of competition; Carolina's improbable 38-35 win at Arizona State in 2002, along with its impressive showing in a 38-27 loss at Wisconsin last year, keeps me from giving this one away quite so easily.

That leaves home games against Georgia Tech, Louisville, N.C. State and Virginia Tech to decide the Tar Heels' – and perhaps ultimately – their head coach's fate.

So is this weekend the most important in Bunting's career? I say, ‘No.'

The following week is when the Yellow Jackets come-a-calling. When asked in the preseason which game (or games) were most pivotal; Bunting consistently replied, ‘Every game is important.'

But I say an expected defeat at the hands of Virginia this Saturday means nothing. However, a seventh-straight loss to the Yellow Jackets – hardly a traditional rival – could set the tone for the remainder of the Tar Heels' season.

No wonder Bunting says he wants to see more fans in the seats Sept. 18.

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