football Edit

No. 3: 1981

Our series ranking the 20 best UNC football teams of all time continues with the 1981 Tar Heels.
Our series ranking the 20 best UNC football teams of all time continues with the 1981 Tar Heels. (UNC Communications)

Our series ranking the 20 best UNC football teams of all time continues today. Once this series concludes, we will rank the best UNC basketball teams of all time:

No. 3: 1981


Record: 10-2 (5-1 ACC)

Bowl: Gator Bowl, beat Arkansas 31-27

Ranking: 8

Coach: Dick Crum

All-Americans: David Drechsler (G); Greg Poole (DB)

First-Team All-ACC: Kelvin Bryant RB; Ron Spruill OG; David Dreschler OG; William Fuller DT; Greg Poole DB; Lee Shaffer LB; Jeff Hayes P.

Honors: None

What's To Know: Sitting at 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation, the Tar Heels hosted a solid South Carolina team at Kenan Stadium. UNC started the season on fire, routing nonconference foes while racking up huge numbers, including by tailback Kelvin Bryant, who was well on his way to serious Heisman Trophy contention (and was the early front runner) when he went down with a knee injury in the fourth game of the season at Georgia Tech.

But, with big back-to-back games looming against then-ACC power Maryland and national title contender Clemson, the Heels admittedly weren't as ready as they should have been versus the Gamecocks and were whacked 31-13. Otherwise, the Heels were awesome that season.

A 10-8 home loss to eventual national champion Clemson in a game that matched top-5 ACC teams against each other for the first time in the league's history was a big missed opportunity, but the team grabbed a really nice bowl win over Arkansas during one of the Razorbacks' best stretches ever. The Gator Bowl win might be best remembered for the fog that settled in during the game, making passing the ball extremely difficult. UNC's running game flourished, as Bryant Ethan Horton each surpassed the 100-yard mark.

Bryant's injury may be the biggest in UNC history. He set an NCAA record with 15 touchdowns in UNC's first three games, notching 56-9, 49-7, and 56-14 over East Carolina, Miami (Ohio) and Boston College, respectively. He had 520 yards on 60 carries in those games, for an average of 8.6 per attempt. Bryant had gained 47 yards on six carries in the early going at Georgia Tech, but tore his knee at the end of a 27-yard run. He came back later in the season but wasn't the same player. UNC's offense was also much less potent without Bryant's services.

It's interesting to consider what may have happened had Bryant never torn his knee. He could have won a Heisman and UNC could have played, and maybe even won, a national title. The climate about football may have be a lot different in Chapel Hill today.

This team did lose two games, but people saw enough of it to know it’s one of the top UNC teams of all time. Carolina was ranked in every poll that season, spending nine weeks in the top 10.

1982 NFL Draft

2nd Rnd: Calvin Daniels, LB, Chiefs

6th Rnd: Darrell Nicholson, LB, Giants

8th Rnd: Bill Jackson, DB, Browns

1981 Results