For the second-straight year, the Tar Heels face a Week 1 opponent that has a new coaching staff. Last year, they lost to Kirby Smart and Georgia at the Georgia Dome. And while Cal is coming off a five-win season and has a two-deep laced with question marks, the Golden Bears present some difficulties for Larry Fedora and his staff.
Cal fired head coach Sonny Dykes in January and replaced him with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who didn't keep any of Dykes' assistant coaches and plucked his nine assistants from eight different schools. So including Cal and Wilcox's former team, Wisconsin, and the Tar Heels heels have been watching film from 10 schools and one NFL team.
"We’re looking at a lot of tape, wasting a lot of time, when it comes down to it,” Fedora said. “… But you have no way of knowing. So you spend a lot of time trying to over-prepare, so that your kids have some kind of idea of what’s going to happen in the game.”
While this isn't an unfair or uncommon burden for the Heels — Wilcox is one of 22 first-year (including interim) FBS head coaches this season — it's still an added challenge for an offseason that already had Fedora and other coaches scrambling to adjust offseason schedules when the NCAA eliminated two-a-day practices in April. And that challenge will carry into the actual game against the Golden Bears.
"Oh, yeah, there's no doubt," Fedora told HERO Sports when asked if the uncertainty creates chaotic sideline moments early in the game. "That's one thing we talk about with our team. 'Hey, guys, there may be some things that we prepare for that we don't see; there may be some things that we will see that we haven't prepared for'. So we're just going to have to make those adjustments on the sideline."
Cal's roster also ranks 110th in the FBS in terms of overall experience, according to Phil Steele, who weighs two-deep breakdowns, percentage of tackles and yards returning and other factors. That means even more uncertainty for Fedora.
"The focus has got to be on us and our techniques, our fundamentals, our base rules that we will then adjust as we get into the game. So our guys have to understand that there may be some things that happen early on that we don't like, but we'll overcome them. We just keep playing and we'll make the adjustments that we need to make."
Cal and North Carolina kick off at 12:20 p.m. ET at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill. The game will be televised on ACC Network.