In his first tour of duty as the head coach at North Carolina (1988-97), Mack Brown took the Tar Heels to college football’s elite.

Brown used those 10 years in Chapel Hill as a springboard to 16 years and a national championship at Texas.

The skeptics said Brown could not recapture the magic when he returned for his second tour of duty at North Carolina last season. Well, they came close.

The Tar Heels finished 7-6 and capped off the season with a 55-13 win in the Military Bowl. But Brown and company were very close to doing something special in 2019.

The Tar Heels, who opened with surprising wins over South Carolina and Miami to start 2-0, had a tough time closing out games after that. 

North Carolina's six losses, including a one-point loss to No. 1 Clemson, came by a total fo 26 points.

But with 10 starters returning on offense, including sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, the Tar Heels can think bigger in 2020.

Howell was the ACC Rookie of the Year last season after throwing for a school record and ACC record 38 touchdowns.

Howell’s passing is more than complimented by the running game of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, who combined for almost 2,000 yards rushing last season. North Carolina also returns two 1,000-yard receivers.

There is some rebuilding work to do on a defense that finished fourth in the ACC last season, giving up 23.7 points per game.

But the good news is the return of Chazz Surratt, who made the transition from quarterback to linebacker last season and posted 115 tackles. He has been named to several preseason All-America teams.

Before the shutdown in March, North Carolina looked like a team that could contend for the ACC Coastal Division. But when the ACC moved to a 10-game conference schedule it did away with divisions. And right now it looks like Clemson and Notre Dame are the top two teams in the conference.

North Carolina does not play Clemson in the regular season but does host Notre Dame on Nov. 27.