Wednesday, August 20, 2008

North Carolina Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 11@Rutgers
Sept. 27@Miami
Oct. 18@Virginia
Nov. 15@Maryland
Nov. 22N.C. STATE
Nov. 29@Duke

2007 Results: 4-8 overall, 3-5 ACC (4th Coastal Division)

Offense: It's not a stretch to say that this unit may develop into the most potent attack in the ACC after Clemson, which probably says more about the general mediocrity of offensive football in the league than it does about Carolina. Nonetheless, the skill positions are set heading into the season, with sophomore quarterback T.J. Yates returning from a solid freshman campaign in which he was thrown to the wolves with scant assistance from the running game. He was impressive early in the year but his performance slipped as the season wore on, when defenses started dropping back more and his shoulder started disintegrating (he had successful offseason surgery but missed spring ball). Much needed help in the run game was found last year, albeit late (week 11) and his name is Greg Little, who moved over from receiver and rushed for 247 yards in the last two games of the 2007 season. And Little was able to permanently move over to running back because the Heels are stocked with talent at receiver, led by junior Hakeem Nicks (958 yards, 5 TDs last year). The entire receiving corps from last season is back, aside from converted QB Joe Dailey (and his whopping two catches in '07). The offensive line looks to be better in 2008, as all but one from last year's two-deep returns and they now have a year of experience with the Butch Davis/John Shoop system.

: A mixed bag, starting with the new defensive coordinator (see "Coaching" below). The Heels lose some good individual players from last year's defensive unit, but as a whole the further away they get from all remnants of John Bunting's awful defenses, the better. The defensive line should be the best UNC has seen since the Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims days earlier this decade. Five players with starting experience are back, led by behemoth tackle Marvin Austin. Four of UNC's top five recruits this winter were D-linemen, so expect a few of them to see playing time as well. The linebacking unit still has a ways to go, and the loss of Durrell Mapp and his team leading 132 tackles from last year does not help (the second leading tackler on UNC's defense last year had 59) . The LB starting rotation last year was a turnstile and probably will be again early this year, and depth is still a concern. The secondary is in much better shape, as both corners and both safeties from last year's 27th-ranked pass defense return. Sophomore safety Deunta Williams is a star in the making as he led the team in picks in 2007 and was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Special Teams: The graduation of Connor Barth (19 for 22 on FGs last year) is a huge loss and his replacement has yet to be named as of this posting. The good news is that return specialist Brandon Tate is back (9.4yds and 24.1yds on punt and KO returns respectively in '07) along with punter Terrence Brown and his 41.4 yards per boot from last season.

: For the better part of the last 20 years, North Carolina has been labeled a sleeping giant in college football circles and except for the glorious run in 1996-1997 (21-3 record, two Top 10 finishes), the Heels have almost purposely refused to awaken. How in the world did John Bunting get as long as he did? Ditto Carl Torbush? Hell, how did those two even get hired? But that's in the past, and the Heels now have a bonafide builder and winner in Butch Davis. If he decides to settle in Chapel Hill (and that's no guarantee), that proverbial giant is likely to jump the hell out of bed and roust about for a long, long time. That certainly has a lot to do with Davis' ability as a college coach and administrator, but in the short-term it also has plenty to do with the current jumbled mess that is the Coastal Division. That said, the first potential kink in Davis' construction project appears to be his whiskey-tango-foxtrot hire of Everett Withers as defensive coordinator, replacing last year's DC Chuck Pagano who bolted for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. That's the Everett Withers who was Minnesota's DC last year. The Minnesota that ranked 119th in total defense. Yes, there's more to the Withers/Minnesota story than simple stats (the Tim Brewster hire was a debacle, and Withers had a nice six year run as DB coach with the Tennessee Titans prior), but jeez-a-loo this is a massive leap of faith on Davis' part.

Odds & Ends: Six of UNC's eight losses last year were by 7 points or less; the other two defeats were twin 37-10 drubbings by Wake Forest and USF.....the Heels' victory over James Madison in last season's opener was just their third opening day win since 1997.....Carolina hasn't finished on the positive side in turnover margin since the 1999 season

Schedule Analysis: It ain't a cakewalk, but it's not exactly grueling either. Every game on the schedule is winnable. The most glaring aspect of the slate is the fortuitous absence of Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State from the Atlantic Division rotation. The Tar Heels substitute last year's 0-3 mark against non-conference foes East Carolina, USF and South Carolina with UConn, Rutgers and Notre Dame this fall; 2-1 should be the worst Carolina goes against that trio. The home and away games are nicely spaced out, with no back-to-back road trips. In short, this is a schedule that can get the Heels to the ACC Championship Game if Davis and crew have this team ready from week one.
Projected Wins: McNeese State, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Boston College, Georgia Tech, @Duke
Projected Losses: @Rutgers, @Maryland
Toss-Ups: Virginia Tech, @Miami, @Virginia, N.C. State

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Look away Wolfpack fans. I mean it.

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1 comment:

WeisGipper said...

Please stop by and take part in the Football Friday Chat this Friday, August 22 in the IBB Chat Room. Friday's topics will include the latest news from fall camp, the injury report, the depth chart, the recruiting trail, and the latest information surrounding the Irish's 2008 opponents. Also there will the Moderator of the Boston College Blog: Eagle In Atlanta, on hand to field any questions you have about the Eagles.

The chat starts at 2 p.m. EST and you can join by either clicking on the IBB Chat Room link on the right hand side of the IBB blog page or by typing this URL: