For the first time since 1997, North Carolina is set to play a regular season game as a top-five team in the AP poll. The opponent then? Florida State. The coach? Mack Brown.
The storylines are swirling as the Tar Heels and Seminoles get set to play in Saturday night’s ACC spotlight. The national hype of the game, which is also Mack Brown’s first meeting against his alma mater since that 1997 game, has been downgraded as a result of Florida State being far from the powerhouse it once was. But the level of excitement around Chapel Hill for this return to the top of the polls is significant — even if it’s not (yet) shared by Brown.
“Does [the No. 5 ranking] mean anything? No, not really,” Brown said Monday. “I’ve always told the players that until the College Football Playoff polls come out, probably be in November this year, that’s the first time I even look at the polls. Because that’s when everybody has a resume, we know who’s good and who’s not. We’ve got a few teams right now that everybody thinks are ‘great’ and then the rest of us are a lot alike.”
Brown knows that North Carolina has a chance to be really good, but it’s not there yet, even admitting that the Tar Heels are a little “ahead of schedule” with this current level of success. The 2020 team is still inexperienced defensively, and against Virginia Tech needed the high-powered offense to have its best game of the season to close out the win and remain undefeated.
While Brown is coaching up the current roster to make sure no one gets complacent with early season adoration, he’s also trying to accomplish bigger picture goals for the program. Establishing consistency over time is what Brown hopes to do for North Carolina here in his second stint with the school because he knows this No. 5 ranking can be a flash in the pan if it’s followed by a loss. There’s a perception that being ranked highly is an anomaly for the program, and in 2020, the Tar Heels aren’t to a point yet where they fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.
“Right now when people put up the top five and they see the other four they say ‘yeah I got it’ and then they see North Carolina and they say ‘what are they doing in there, where’d that come from? Come on man, they’re not that good,'” Brown said. “We want it to be where they put us in there, we’ve earned that right.
“And if we don’t play well we’ll be out fast. Other people drop a little bit if they don’t play well. That will not be our case, because I don’t think we’ve earned the right over time. Maybe we are, in the first three weeks, one of the top five teams in the country, but we haven’t been over time … We don’t have any lock on No.