TarHeelIllustrated - UNC's History As A Top 5 Football Team
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UNC's History As A Top 5 Football Team

UNC is in the Top 5 of the AP rankings for the first time in 23 years, so what is its history being rated this high?
UNC is in the Top 5 of the AP rankings for the first time in 23 years, so what is its history being rated this high? (AP)

North Carolina has played 266 games since it last took the field ranked in the top five of the Associated Press college football poll, though that will change Saturday when the No. 5 Tar Heels visit Florida State.

Ironically, the last time UNC played a game ranked in the top five it was against the Seminoles, and it didn’t go well, as Mack Brown’s Heels lost 20-3 at Kenan Stadium in 1997.

Brown is back at the helm for UNC, and in just 16 games has turned the program from winning just five times in the two seasons before he arrived to the top five after just 16 games.

So, we decided to dig deep into UNC’s history in the AP rankings, and here are the results of our research:

The AP poll began in 1936 and hasn’t always been the Top 25. It has changed four times before settling into its current format in 1989. Here is that history:

*1936-1961 – Top 20

*1962-1967 – Top 10

*1968-1988 – Top 20

*1989-Current – Top 25


UNC & The Rankings

Michael Carter and the Tar Heels are streaking up the rankings ladder in 2020.
Michael Carter and the Tar Heels are streaking up the rankings ladder in 2020. (ACC Media)

*UNC has been ranked 251 times in its history

*UNC has been ranked in 41 different seasons

*UNC has been ranked in the top 10 in 14 different seasons

*UNC has been ranked in the top 10 in 78 times

*UNC has been ranked in the top 5 in six different seasons

*Different seasons ranked per decade: 1930s (3); 1940s (5); 1950s (4); 1960s None; 1970s (8); 1980s (5); 1990s (8); 2000s (3); 2010s (3); 2020s (1).

*The first time UNC was ranked came in the second week of the 1937 season, when it was No. 15. Carolina was ranked in for four weeks that season concluding at No. 19.

*UNC has been ranked No. 1 just once before, in 1948.


UNC's Results As A Top 5 Team

The No. 3 Tar Heels walloped NC State on the road in 1983.
The No. 3 Tar Heels walloped NC State on the road in 1983. (UNC Athletics)

*North Carolina has been ranked in the top five 26 times and has a 17-5-1 overall record in games played while ranked in the top five in the nation.

Those results:


1948

No. 2 UNC 28, Wake Forest 6 (Oct. 9)

No. 1 UNC 14, NC State 0 (Oct. 16)

No. 3 UNC 34, LSU 7 (Oct. 23)

No. 3 UNC 14, Tennessee 7 (Oct. 30)

No. 3 UNC 7, William & Mary 7 (Nov. 6)

No. 5 UNC 20, Duke 0 (Nov. 20)

No. 4 UNC 34, Virginia 12 (Nov. 27)

No. 3 UNC 6, Oklahoma 14 (Jan. 1 – Sugar Bowl)


1981

No. 5 UNC 48, Wake Forest 10 (Oct. 10)

No. 4 UNC 21, NC State 10 (Oct. 17)

No. 3 UNC 13, South Carolina 31 (Oct. 24)


1982

Ranked No. 5 in initial poll but didn’t play that weekend because the Tar Heels opened on a Monday night at No. 1 Pittsburgh.

No. 5 UNC 6, Pittsburgh 7 (Sept. 9)


1983

No. 5 UNC 51, William & Mary 20 (Sept. 24)

No. 5 UNC 38, Georgia Tech 21 (Oct. 1)

No. 4 UNC 30, Wake Forest 10 (Oct. 8)

No. 3 UNC 42, NC State 14 (Oct. 15)

No. 3 UNC 26, Maryland 28 (Oct. 29)


1997

No. 5 UNC 48, Virginia 20 (Sept. 27)

No. 5 UNC 31, TCU 10 (Oct. 4)

No. 5 UNC 30, Wake Forest 12 (Oct. 11)

No. 4 UNC 20, NC State 7 (Oct. 18)

No. 5 UNC 16, Georgia Tech 13 (Oct. 30)

No. 5 UNC 3, Florida State 20 (Nov. 8)


2020

No. 5 UNC at Florida State (Oct. 17) ???