2007 ACC Football Season Preview: North Carolina

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North Carolina Tar Heels

10 returning starters (5 offense, 5 defense)

Key Players: QB T.J. Yates, QB Cam Sexton, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brooks
Foster, WR/KR Brandon Tate, DE Hilee Taylor, LB Durell Mapp, LB Chase Rice, CB
Jermaine Strong, FS Trimane Goddard

Overall
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North Carolina was a struggling program under John Bunting, and they will
struggle again in 2007. There is a major lack of talent in the program. UNC had
no players drafted by the NFL in 2007, and just one in 2006. Over the past three
drafts, they have had just four selections, and they have not had a player
selected on the first day of the draft since 2002, when Julius Peppers and Ryan
Sims were taken in the first round.

Butch Davis will eventually bring talent back into the program. In fact, he’s
already started. But they aren’t going to win very many games with their current
group of players. There’s just not enough talent.

Offensive Strength

North Carolina has some guys at wide receiver who can make plays. Hakeem
Nicks started 11 games as a true freshman last season, and led the team in
receiving with 39 catches. He’s a big target at 6-1, 210. He set a UNC freshman
record for receptions and receiving yards.

The Tar Heels also bring back Brooks Foster, who had 38 receptions last
season. Brandon Tate, one of the best kick and punt returners in the ACC, should
see more action on offense this season as well. Former quarterback Joe Dailey
should see time in the rotation, and incoming true freshman Greg Little is
highly touted.

Offensive Weakness

When it’s August 13, and you don’t know who your starting quarterback is
going to be, that’s usually a weakness. That’s the case with UNC this season.
The competition is between sophomore Cam Sexton and r-freshman T.J. Yates.
Sexton started five games last season and struggled horribly, completing just
42% of his passes, while tossing up eight interceptions compared to just four
touchdown passes.

Yates is obviously inexperienced, so Butch Davis has a tough decision ahead
of him. Production should be better this year than it was a year ago, but don’t
look for a vast improvement.

Defensive Strength

UNC’s defensive strength in 2007 should be their defensive line. They’ll have
three experienced seniors in defensive end Hilee Taylor, defensive tackle
Kentwan Balmer, and defensive tackle Kyndraus Guy. They should have more talent
and depth up front in 2007.

The Tar Heels also bring in highly touted true freshman Marvin Austin, the
top defensive tackle recruit in the country. Sophomore defensive tackle Aleric
Mullins is also a former SuperPrep All-American. UNC is improving the talent on
their defensive line, and it should begin to show, maybe as early as this
season.

Defensive Weakness

UNC loses three starters in their defensive secondary and could be starting a
true freshman at cornerback and strong safety, as well as a sophomore at the
other cornerback spot. That’s a lot of inexperience, and unless the Tar Heel
front seven can generate a good pass rush, these guys could get burned early and
often.

The positive for UNC is that former starting free safety Trimane Goddard is
back. He had 53 tackles and three interceptions in 2005, but broke his foot
before the 2006 season began. He’ll be the most experienced starter in UNC’s
secondary this season.

Key Game

UNC has basically no chance to go to a bowl game. They are playing only for
pride, so I’m listing their key game as the Duke game on November 24. UNC barely
managed to knock off the Blue Devils last season, thanks to a missed extra
point. Duke returns all 11 starters on an offense that dropped 44 points on the
Tar Heels last year. It would be very embarrassing for UNC to lose to Duke on
their home field in the first season of the Butch Davis Era. They need to win
that game.

Will Stewart’s Take

UNC has the potential to be a very good football team … in the long run,
though, not the short run. Sometimes I tell people that I think UNC is a
sleeping giant in football, and they chuckle and give me that, "UNC’s a
basketball school" routine. "That’s why Mack Brown left." Blah,
blah, blah.

The facts are: UNC is a national school with a great reputation, a beautiful
campus, and pretty deep pockets. You can recruit good football players there.
The Tar Heels did it in the early 70s, when they went a combined 20-4 in 1971
and 1972 under Bill Dooley. Dooley continued to raid the state of Virginia for
good talent all the way through the late 70s, and he won another ACC
championship in 1977. His successor, Dick Crum, won 11 games and another ACC
championship in 1980, with players Dooley recruited before Dooley went to Tech
in 1978.

UNC fell off in the mid-late 1980s. Mack Brown arrived in 1988 and put up a
couple of 1-10 seasons before resurrecting the program into a powerhouse that
went 10-2 in 1996 and 11-1 in 1997 (pummeling the Hokies 42-3 in the Gator
Bowl).

You can win at Carolina. The real question, though, is can Butch Davis win at
Carolina?

I think he can, but it depends upon how you define "win." At the
University of Miami, Davis and his staff evaluated and developed talent very
well. Exactly how well was demonstrated in 2000-2003, when the Canes went 46-4
(some of it under Davis and some of it under Larry Coker) with the players and
program Butch rebuilt from mid-90s probation.

Davis and crew had a reputation as being poor game day coaches, though. His
team and coaches were often in disarray as Butch sweated, yelled, and charged
his way up and down the sidelines, sometimes like a lunatic.

The best example of this lack of organization that I can remember came in
1996, when the Canes were facing a decision late in the first half against the
Hokies in the Orange Bowl. Miami was deep in Tech territory, had one play left,
and had to decide to go for it on fourth down or kick a field goal. The details
are somewhat fuzzy (and they aren’t in the TSL archives), but I remember it like
this: Davis sent the field goal unit out. His quarterback, Ryan Clement, pitched
a fit, ranting and raving and slamming his helmet. Davis called a timeout and
changed his mind, sending the offense onto the field. Davis called another
timeout and changed his mind again, sending his kicker, Andy Crosland,
back out.

Crosland promptly missed a 22-yard chip shot field goal.

That’s typical Butch, or at least it was at the time. I think he’ll bring
some talent to UNC, and the Tar Heels will be more competitive, instead of
getting embarrassed like they have been in recent years. I also think that the
program under Davis will top out around 7 or 8 wins, maybe 9 in this era of
12-game regular seasons.

But not this year. Not soon, either. If it takes Davis four years to rebuild
the program, the Heels will be solid around 2010, but not before then.

UNC
2007 Football Schedule

UNC
2007 Roster

UNC 2007 Depth Chart not available

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