North Carolina Tar Heels
In 2010, North Carolina football was marred by controversy and suspensions which denied the fans a look at what was projected to be a great season. Head coach Butch Davis plugged in players to fill spots and by the end of the year the Tar Heels had persevered with a Bowl victory over Tennessee giving new meaning to the term ‘stepping up‘. However, the NCAA isn’t through with their investigation meaning the program could still be hit with further penalties and sanctions. That means that some of the players forced in to action a year ago have a year of valuable experience under their belt and Davis might have to plug in a few bodies in to the starting lineup once again.
The offense will out of necessity have a new quarterback under center after TJ Yates and more than 3.400 passing yards graduated. The job of running the team falls on the shoulders of sophomore Bryn Renner who attempted a mere two passes in 2010. Renner won’t be expected to do anything extraordinary outside of making a few plays and avoiding costly mistakes. North Carolina will likely rely on a ball control rushing attack featuring Ryan Houston and his 250 pounds wearing down defenses. If forced to go to the air, Renner has the team’s leading receiver from 2010 back in Dwight Jones who will partner with Jheranie Boyd to give the Heels a serviceable passing game. However, with three starters back along the offensive line look for UNC to run more often than not and give Renner a chance to pick and choose his spots to air it out.
With suspensions hitting the defensive line in 2010 North Carolina filled in the gaps with young and inexperienced players and it showed early on but the unit slowly improved as the season matured. That might have been a Godsend with all four starters back along with a little bit of depth as well. Quinton Coples is the leader of this group at defensive end but is also one of the players the NCAA is looking at. If the Tar Heels avoid another round of NCAA sanctions than the front seven should be tough to run on and one of the better units in the conference. The Heels are not as optimistic in the secondary with cornerback Charles Brown the only returning starter. Tre Boston and Matt Merletti get the nod at safety but they are just two of several players that saw field time last season which should help.
Lou Groza contender Casey Barth is extremely accurate, hitting 19 of 22 a season ago with range to about 50 yards and has gone 50 of 62 in his career. CJ Feagles doesn’t have a big leg at punter as his 37.5 average in 2010 clearly states but he does have good hang time. With Da’Norris Searcy gone after handling all return duties last year the Tar Heels will be looking for a few capable bodies for these jobs.
Prognosis: Figuring out where North Carolina fits in the ACC depends on whether the NCAA hit’s the teams with suspensions and if the Heels can remain relatively healthy because the talent base is there. If the North Carolina offense can run the ball and Renner can make routine throws and keep mistakes to a minimum I don’t see why this team won’t be a factor in the Coastal Division and an 8-9 win season is a distinct possibility.