2008 ACC Football Season Preview: North Carolina

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North Carolina Tar Heels

Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)

Key Losses: C Scott Lenahan, DE Hilee Taylor, DT Kentwan Balmer, LB
Durell Mapp, PK Connor Barth

Key Returnees: QB T.J. Yates, RB Greg Little, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brooks
Foster, WR Brandon Tate, TE Zack Pianalto, C Aaron Stahl, OG Calvin
Darity, OT Garrett Reynolds, OT Kyle Jolly, DT Marvin Austin, DT Cam Thomas, DT
Aleric Mullins, DE E.J. Wilson, LB Quan Sturdivant, LB Chase Rice, LB Bruce
Carter, CB Kendrick Burney, CB Charles Brown, S Trimane Goddard, S Deunta
Williams

Overall View


"We’re
going to win the ACC this year."

That’s what starting free safety Deunta
Williams said recently
, displaying the new attitude that has taken over the
UNC football program since Butch Davis was hired. They have talent, they just
have to put it all together on the field.

That said, it was a bold statement for a team that won just four games last
year, and only beat Duke because of a missed extra point. On the other hand,
they lost six games by seven points or less. They were the anti-UVA, who won a
lot of games by a very small margin.

Because of the Butch Davis name, the returning starters, and the new levels
of talent that have recently entered the program, UNC is most people’s pick to
finish #2 in the Coastal Division this year.

Offensive Strength

The Tar Heels appear to have good players at all positions on offense,
however the most experienced and most polished group is wide receiver. They are
led by Hakeem Nicks, arguably the best wide receiver in the ACC. He caught 74
passes for 958 yards and five touchdowns last season. Similar to Josh Morgan in
build, he has a good combination of all the skills necessary to be a great
wideout: hands, speed, moves, and route running.

He’s not the only proven wideout for UNC. Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate are
both seniors who have a lot of starting experience. Foster caught 29 passes last
year, and Tate caught 25. Tate also led the ACC with 147.1 all purpose yards per
game. He is a very dangerous special teams return man.

R-freshman Rashad Mason, the former #6 wide receiver recruit in the nation,
should also have a chance to step in and earn playing time this season. This
group looks deep for the Tar Heels.

Offensive Weakness

UNC has four starters coming back on the offensive line, but they are four
very unproven starters. The Tar Heels averaged less than three yards per carry
in eight of their 12 games last season, including their first five. The low
point came in November when they rushed for just 12 yards on 20 carries against
NC State.

Even pesky James Madison held the Tar Heels to just 2.9 yards per carry. So
while the UNC offensive line looks the part, they’ve never exactly been able to
push anyone around on the ground. They should be better this year, but the Heels
should still be viewed as more of a finesse team offensively.

Defensive Strength

UNC has a lot of depth at defensive tackle, led by sophomore Marvin Austin, a
former blue chip recruit. Joining Austin at defensive tackle are Cam Thomas,
Aleric Mullins and Tavares Brown, who all got some starting experience last
season. This is still a young group overall, with Thomas being the elder
statesman of the group, a junior.

The Heels will also throw r-freshman Tydreke Powell into the mix. Powell is a
former VT recruiting target and the #3 recruit in the state of North Carolina in
2007. UNC could be 5-deep at defensive tackle this year, though they’ve got to
play a lot more physical than they did last season.

Defensive Weakness

UNC
started two freshmen at cornerback last year, Charles Brown and Kendric Burney.
They played well for freshmen, but they will still be just sophomores. Burney is
very small at 5-9, 180. They are backed up by two converted tailbacks, Richie
Rich and Johnny White. White was UNC’s starting tailback against Virginia Tech
last year.

The Hokies only threw for 76 yards against UNC last year, but that doesn’t
mean other teams didn’t have success. Georgia Tech, not exactly a good throwing
team with Taylor Bennett last year, threw for 260 yards against them, and East
Carolina lit them up for 406 through the air. The starting cornerbacks are
young, and their backups weren’t good enough to stick at their previous
positions. That’s generally not a great sign.

Will Stewart’s Take

I took a quick
look at UNC
over in the TSL Blogs area a couple of weeks ago, and I decided
that the ACC schedule is very favorable for UNC this season. The Coastal is
fragile, and the Heels get the weak teams from the Atlantic, avoiding Clemson,
FSU and Wake. Three of UNC’s four ACC road games are against teams picked fifth
or sixth in their divisions: Virginia, Duke and Maryland. Much like Miami, the
Heels have a very favorable in-conference schedule.

But note that for many of the positives you hear about UNC, there’s a
negative.

Pro: TJ Yates is a good QB who will improve this year. Con: He
missed spring football with shoulder surgery, losing valuable practice time and
strength in the process.

Pro: UNC lost six games by seven points or less last season. Con:
UNC won three games by six points or less. (Only their 37-14 win over JMU was
comfortable.) Never mind 4-8, this team was three plays away from 1-11.

Pro: UNC returns eight defensive starters and is deep at defensive
tackle. Con: First-year UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers was the
DC at Minnesota last year, and the Golden Gophers finished dead last in total
defense (519 yards a game).

Pro: UNC has Butch Davis prowling the sidelines. Con: UNC has
Butch Davis prowling the sidelines.

Just like I said in my blog entry, I’ll believe it when I see it from UNC,
who long ago quit resembling the powerhouse that shellacked the Hokies 42-3 in
the 1997 Gator Bowl. I’m a guy who very much wants a strong ACC, but I won’t
toot UNC’s horn until the Tar Heels are ready.

UNC
2008 Football Schedule

UNC
2008 Roster

UNC 2008 Depth Chart not available

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