The ‘gap is closing’ between North Carolina, elite football programs

Former North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little scores a touchdown against Florida State in 2009.

CHARLOTTE — There are two elite programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference — Clemson and Florida State — and then there’s a large gap between that pair and the rest of the conference.

North Carolina is doing its best to join the highest level before any of its other ACC rivals.

“That gap is closing,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said at Thursday’s ACC Kickoff. “Clemson was the No. 1 team in the country last year … We were an onside kick away from playing toe-to-toe with them. So we’re not far away. And our kids know that.”

Fedora was referring to last season’s ACC title game, in which North Carolina nearly rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final two minutes.

(A blown call prevented a successful Heels onside kick, and the Tigers knelt down to preserve their ticket to the College Football Playoff.)

If UNC wants to be on the level of more successful programs,the team knows it needs to win big games consistently. That includes the Sept. 3 opener vs. Georgia in Atlanta.

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“We’re excited about it,” Fedora said. “For us, we look at it, it’s kind of a measuring stick, where are we in our program at this point.”

Here were some other thoughts from the Tar Heels during Thursday’s availability:

  • Wide receiver and returner Ryan Switzer on the opener: “We know it’s gonna be a majority (of Georgia fans in the) crowd, which is gonna be a challenge. But we are very much looking forward to playing them and seeing where we are as a team for the 2016 season.”
  • Switzer: “With the SEC and the stigma that (the Bulldogs) have, it’s really exciting, and it’ll be not only good for us but the ACC as well if we can not only come out with a win, but a significant win.”
  • Fedora on the Bulldogs backfield: “Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, (Elijah) Holyfield. I don’t know who the other ones are, but they’ve got a stable of ’em. If they’re playing running back at the University of Georgia, they’re good.”
  • Cornerback Des Lawrence on the opener: “This is a game we really want, not just because it’s Georgia, but because we felt we left (last year’s) game against South Carolina on the table. We just want to show everybody that we’re gonna be on all cylinders this year, and we’re looking to repeat what we did last year, or (do) better.”
  • Fedora on the opener: “There’s a sense of excitement. You’re getting to play the University of Georgia, which has a tremendous amount of tradition, great fan support, all those things. We know when we walk into that stadium, it’s gonna be loud, and the majority of it is gonna be red. We know. They’re excited about that.”