Saturday, August 4, 2007
North Carolina Preview
2006 Results: 3-9 overall, 2-6 ACC (5th Coastal Division)
Offense: Not pretty. The QB position is completely up for grabs, with sophomore Cam Sexton (highly ineffective in 2006), redshirt frosh TJ Yates, and true freshman Mike Paulus all vying for the starting position. Last year's on-again/off-again starter Joe Dailey has been mercifully moved to WR, where he is currently backup to Brooks Foster (486 yards in '06). 2006's top wideout, Hakeem Nicks (660 yards), returns as well. The running game is, quite frankly, a black hole. Guess who was the sixth-leading rusher for the Tar Heels last year? This guy. That's right, the frickin' kicker, and that was one play for 21 yards on what I'm guessing was either a fake or a muffed snap. Last year's leading rusher (Ronnie McGill - 849 yards, 7 TDs) has departed, and the second leading rusher in '06 (Barrington Edwards) currently resides in the netherworld of indefinite suspension. The third and fourth leading rushers last year were Dailey and Sexton, so it's safe to say that this position is in major disarray, and more than likely we'll see a running game by committee until one or two guys break out. Oh, and the offensive line loses two starters from a mediocre unit in '06, but at least there is some reasonably experienced depth.
Defense: Just four starters return from last year's dreadful unit (11th ACC, 92nd nationally), and that may be a blessing in disguise considering that the new and improved coaching staff can practically start fresh with schemes and personnel. Nonetheless, five of the top six tacklers in 2006 have left for the private sector, and while there's a lot of game experience on the defensive line and in the LB corps, the secondary is extremely green, with both projected starting safeties and one of the corners having redshirted in 2006. The backups on the depth chart are relatively light on experience as well, so this unit will be a major construction job for much of the 2007 campaign. Luckily, most of the offenses in the ACC are still rebuilding from the ashes of the '06 cataclysm.
Special teams: Kicker and rushing demon Connor Barth returns for his senior season and - all kidding aside - is one of the best in the country (10 for 10 on field goals in '06, including two 50+ yarders). The Heels lose the oft-used David Wooldridge as punter, but signed top JUCO punter Terrence Brown. Kick and punt returns will again be handled by Brandon Tate (1 punt return TD and 2 KO return TDs last year).
Coaching: The Heels may have finally hit a home run with this coaching hire after the strikeouts with Carl Torbush and John Bunting. Butch Davis (51-20 at Miami from 1995-2000, not as good with the Cleveland Browns from 2001-2004) has the coaching gravitas needed to lure top-notch recruits to Chapel Hill and has hired an excellent staff to complement him as well, a staff that includes a nice mix of NFL experience (OC John Shoop, DC Chuck Pagano) and college exposure (DL coach/recruiting coordinator and ex-Oklahoma skipper John Blake). It's certainly a much more highly regarded coaching outfit than the previous one, but how they work with the existing talent at UNC is anyone's guess. It may be an ugly first year or so, but by year three, Davis and Co. should have the Tar Heels competing for the Coastal Division title.
For What It's Worth: UNC and their Wolfpack brethren tied for last in the ACC (and ranked 113th nationally) in turnover margin last year at -11....under John Bunting, the Tar Heels went 9-3 against archrivals Duke and NC State, and 18-42 against everyone else....while at Miami, Butch Davis compiled an 11-10 record against current ACC programs (1-5 vs. Florida State, 1-5 vs. Virginia Tech, 6-0 against Boston College, 3-0 combined vs. Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia)....divergent paths - in last year's season opener, UNC outgained Rutgers in total yards and first downs, but lost a nailbiter 21-16; Rutgers went on to finish 11-2, while UNC stumbled to 3-9
Schedule Analysis: Compared with most of their kamikaze schedules in the Bunting Era (out of conference games with Oklahoma once, Texas twice, Arizona State twice, Utah twice, Louisville twice, Wisconsin twice), this one seems relatively light; nonetheless it's still a difficult one. A 3-0 start is not out of the question (James Madison, @East Carolina, Virginia), but then it's seven straight against '06 bowl teams (including a wicked Butch-trifecta of old nemesis Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then home games with ex-employer Miami, and former Sunshine State rival Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks), then a finish of NC State and Georgia Tech on the road, and a home finale with Duke. On the plus side, Florida State, Boston College and Clemson are absent from the slate.
Projected Wins- James Madison, @East Carolina, Duke
Projected Losses- @USF, @Virginia Tech, Miami, @Wake Forest, Maryland, @Georgia Tech
Toss-Ups- Virginia, South Carolina, @N.C. State
For More Opinionated, Yet Delightful, Tar Heel Insight: Carolina March, Heels Blog
Blast-From-The-Past, Feel-Good YouTube:
When John Bunting wasn't a punchline...