Thursday, August 18, 2011

season preview: North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels


9/3: James Madison
9/10: Rutgers
9/17: Virginia
9/24: @ Georgia Tech
10/1: @ East Carolina
10/8: Louisville
10/15: Miami
10/22: @ Clemson
10/29: Wake Forest
11/5: @ NC State
11/12: BYE
11/17: @ Virginia Tech (Thu.)
11/26: Duke

Skip: Boston College, Maryland, Florida State

Projected starters:

QB: Bryn Renner (So.)
RB: Ryan Houston (5Sr.)
FB: Devon Ramsay (Sr.)
WR: Dwight Jones (Sr.)
WR: Jheranie Boyd (Jr.)
TE: Nelson Hurst (rJr.)
LT: James Hurst (So.)
LG: Jonathan Cooper (rJr.)
C: Cam Holland (5Sr.)
RG: Travis Bond (Jr.)
RT: Brennan Williams (Jr.)

LDE: Quinton Coples (Sr.)
LDT: Jordan Nix (5Sr.)
RDT: Tydreke Powell (5Sr.)
RDE: Donte Paige-Moss (Jr.)
SLB: Herman Davidson (Sr.)
MLB: Kevin Reddick (Jr.)
WLB: Zach Brown (Sr.)
CB: Charles Brown (5Sr.)
CB: Josh Hunter (rSo.)
SS: Matt Merletti (5Sr.)
FS: Tre Boston (So.)

K: Casey Barth (Sr.)
P: C.J. Feagles (rSo.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Everett Withers (1st season)

Media prediction: 3rd, Coastal Division


2010 1st team: DT Quinton Coples
2010 2nd team: G Jonathan Cooper, LB Bruce Carter
2010 HM: WR Dwight Jones, RB Johnny White, QB T.J. Yates, K Casey Barth
2011 preseason: WR Dwight Jones, DE Quinton Coples, DT Tydreke Powell

(Italics indicate departed player.)

It's a testament to the glacial pace of NCAA investigations that UNC is going into its second season under the shadow of an impending NCAA hammer.  Last year at this time they had yet to learn the extent of the suspensions, which turned out to be, uh, extensive.  This year they have a full complement of players - at least, they don't have any Marvin Austins waiting to find out about their eligibility - but they're short a coach and an AD this time around, having shown both the door just as fall practice began.  Butch Davis squeezed eight wins out of a severely shorthanded squad last year, but now UNC is going to weather the rest of the storm with a new hand on the tiller.


UNC is just one of about a thousand ACC teams starting fresh at quarterback.  Bryn Renner got a lot of hype as a recruit; his time for living up to it is now.  UNC should have a good offense if he does.  There's a ton of potential in the receiving corps that's on the cusp of a breakthrough if the quarterback gets them the ball.  Dwight Jones had a terrific year last year with 946 yards on 62 catches, and was named one of the conference's top two receivers going into the season.  If Jheranie Boyd puts his blazing speed to good use in getting open, then he, Jones, and consistent producer Erik Highsmith will be a tremendously difficult group to cover.  UNC is thin and unproven at tight end, though.

Normally a team that loses its top three rushers has a definite question mark at running back the next year, but the suspension mess last year created a silver lining: Ryan Houston, held out the first five games until cleared, decided to redshirt, and come back this year to be the feature back in the offense.  There might be some series where he gets a rest but there won't be a rotation.  Houston is a big, big back who can carry 30 times or more if he has to.  Devon Ramsay was also caught up in the suspension tornado and missed most of last year; he's not a carry-the-ball kind of fullback, but a big, bruising blocker.  With Houston running behind Ramsay the UNC rushing attack might again resemble old-style Big Ten ball, as it often did under Davis.

The offensive line is well-suited to that kind of attack, with none of the projected starters weighing in at less than 310 pounds, and big Travis Bond measuring 6'7" and 340 pounds.  Experienced center Cam Holland checks in at 320.  Add Jonathan Cooper to that group and you have a formidable interior line.  James Hurst looks like a keeper at left tackle, starting 12 games there as a freshman last year, a good sign that good things are ahead.  All in all this is an offense that should have little trouble moving the ball and controlling the clock; if the passing game clicks, watch out.


The defense isn't loaded, but it's good enough, at least on the front seven.  The star is defensive end Quinton Coples, forced by manpower shortages to play tackle last year.  Even there, he pulled off 10 sacks.  Now that he's at end he might get even better, because the rest of the line is good enough to make you regret double-teaming Coples.  The tackles aren't spectacular but they're solid, Tydreke Powell being the main attraction on the interior, but Donte Paige-Moss, playing opposite Coples on the right side, gives UNC a great chance to have the best pair of pass-rushing ends in the conference.

At linebacker, UNC should be OK too, despite losing two of their big-name defenders to the pros.  Kevin Reddick is solid in the middle, and Zach Brown was second on the team in tackles (to Reddick) despite only starting five games.  Depth isn't great and the starter on the strong side is still up in the air, but as long as Brown and Reddick are healthy, linebacker play should be decent if not spectacular.

The ugly side of things is in the secondary, where UNC has been hammered by departures and injuries.  Potential starter (and nickel back in the worst-case) Mywan Jackson left the team this month, and another likely starter in Jabari Price is having hand surgery tomorrow and could miss a lot of the season.  That leaves UNC down to one experienced player - Charles Brown, who missed last season with investigation problems - and some prayers.  The safeties are comprised largely of journeymen who've landed at safety for now; Tre Boston was a cornerback last year and Matt Merletti was a former special teamer forced into action at safety last year by the wave of suspensions.  This is by far the weakest unit on the team.


Casey Barth goes into his senior year providing Carolina with very dependable placekicking, but C.J. Feagles's average punt last year was a horrible 37.5 yards.  Feagles is only a sophomore so there should be improvement this year.


Had they kept Butch Davis, who pulled UNC into a bowl game through a season riddled with suspensions, things could be looking up.  After all, who knows what Miami's in for?  Probably a lot of similar suspensions.  But nobody really knows what Everett Withers brings to the table.  He's got the personnel to contend, especially on offense and along the defensive line, but the secondary is a real sore spot that could hold the Heels back.  The chances of seeing UNC in a bowl this year are excellent, assuming the NCAA doesn't have other ideas.  (Probably will not be a concern.  Their hearing isn't til October 28; by the time the NCAA comes back with a ruling - which UNC will probably appeal if for no other reason than to put off their punishment - bowl invites will already have been handed out.)  At any rate this is by and large a good team with an outside shot at making the ACCCG, although another trip to the Music City or ex-Tangerine Bowl in Orlando is most likely.

1 comment:

PO13 said...

Is it just me or is Everett Withers a horrible name for a football coach?