No. 10 North Carolina wary of scuffling Virginia

For the first time since 1997 — when Mack Brown was in his first stint as North Carolina’s head coach — the Tar Heels are 6-0 to start a season.

Quarterback Drake Maye and the rest of No. 10 UNC will attempt to keep their hot start rolling on Saturday when they welcome Virginia to Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina (6-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is one of just 11 undefeated teams remaining in the FBS, and one of just two in the ACC — the other being No. 4 Florida State (6-0, 4-0). Meanwhile, Virginia (1-5, 0-2) is one of five Power Five teams with five or more losses on the season.

The final score between the Tar Heels and Cavaliers is expected to be lopsided in favor of North Carolina, but Brown is trying to make sure his team doesn’t overlook Virginia.

“I’ve great respect for (Cavaliers coach) Tony Elliott. His life story is unbelievable,” Brown said. “He sits with me at the ACC meetings. … They’re going to play hard. They’re going to play great. Their record is not near indicative of how good their team is, because they’ve had a chance every week to win.

“And we’ve got to handle success. That’s something that we haven’t done very well around here.”

Indeed, the last time the Tar Heels were ranked inside the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll was in the 2021 preseason. UNC then lost its season opener to Virginia Tech and limped to a 6-7 finish.

Because of their hot start this season, the Tar Heels control their destiny. An ACC championship is possible, as is a berth in the College Football Playoff. The only ranked opponent left on UNC’s schedule is rival Duke, which is No. 16 this week.

North Carolina is coming off a 41-31 home win over Miami in which Maye played spectacularly again, passing for 273 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He continued to build chemistry with wideout Tez Walker, as the receiver hauled in six catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns in just his second game as a Tar Heel.

The offense was also boosted by the play of Omarion Hampton, who racked up 217 yards of total offense (197 rushing, 20 receiving) and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). He was named ACC Running Back of the Week for the second time this season.

“He’s just a dog, straightforward,” UNC defensive back Alijah Huzzie said of Hampton. “Runs hard. Probably one of the hardest backs to tackle from my point of view. I’ve tried to tackle him before, so I know what (other defenses) go through.”

While Maye and Walker get much of the attention, Hampton has nine touchdowns — eight of which have come on the ground — and 756 yards of total offense (658 rushing, 98 receiving) on the season.

Virginia is coming off a bye week, having last played on Oct. 7 when it beat FCS William & Mary 27-13 at home. Tony Muskett threw for 232 yards and two scores in the first victory of the season for the Cavaliers, while Perris Jones rushed for 134 yards.

“What it does is it allows you to take a little bit of time to scout yourselves. You’re going to create some tendencies,” Elliott said. “This is what you want as a competitor. That was my message to the guys. … It’s primetime, it’s on the road, top-10 team — this is what you dream about.”

Commonly known as the South’s Oldest Rivalry, Virginia and UNC first played each other in football in 1892. The Tar Heels have won the last two meetings.