North Carolina Tar Heels
Head Coach: Larry Fedora
2012 Record: 8-4 Overall, 5-3 ACC Coastal
2012 Bowl Result: Not Eligible
2013 returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense
Odds to win 2014 BCS Championship: 350/1
Odds to win 2013 ACC Championship Game: 17/2
Odds to win 2013 ACC Coastal Division: +395
Regular Season Wins: under 9 -165 / over 9 +135
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Last year, under first year coach Larry Fedora, the North Carolina Tar Heels had a talented team but NCAA sanctions kept them out of the ACC Championship game and a bowl game. The Tar Heels were 8-4 last year and finished in a three way tie at 5-3 with Miami and Georgia Tech for the Coastal Division title. Miami was also ineligible for post-season play, and Georgia Tech was awarded the spot in the ACC Championship game.
Aside from a 68-50 loss at home to Georgia Tech, all of the other North Carolina losses were by 5 points or less. The Tar Heels lost on the road to Wake Forest 28-27, at Big East Champion Louisville 39-34, and to rival Duke 33-30. UNC had wins over Elon 62-0, East Carolina 27-6, Idaho 66-0, Virginia Tech 48-34, at Miami 18-14, NC State 43-35, at Virginia 37-13, and against Maryland 45-38.
Now, Fedora returns and the Tar Heels are eligible for the post season. They still have some scholarship limitations so depth could be an issue. Still North Carolina should contend in the wide open Coastal Division. Here is a look at the Tar Heel’s offense, defense, special teams and schedule.
Last year, North Carolina had the #8 ranked offense in the country scoring 40.8 points per game. With Fedora’s and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson up-tempo no huddle offense, the Tar Heels should score plenty of points again, despite key losses in the backfield and on the line.
Senior quarterback Bryn Renner returns to run the offense. Renner completed 65.4% of his passes for 3,356 yards with 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also had a rushing touchdown. The NFL prospect is one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and should improve his numbers in his second year in the system. Marquise Williams took a few snaps last year in blowouts as a freshman. He threw a touchdown in 17 throws, and also had 3 rushing touchdowns. He was suspended for academic reasons during spring practice but has rejoined the team. Williams will compete with true freshman Mitch Trubisky for the back-up job.
The Tar Heels must replace star running back Giovani Bernard who was a second round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft. Bernard had 1,228 yards with 12 touchdowns, and also had 47 catches, 490 yards and 5 touchdowns. Senior A.J. Blue and sophomore Romar Morris will split most of the carries to replace Bernard’s 184. The power back Blue had 82 carries, 433 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 9 catches, 80 yards and a touchdown. The very quick Morris had 69 carries, 386 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 12 catches, 204 yards and 2 scores.True freshmen Khris Francis and T.J. Logan will also get some carries.
Sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis returns after an impressive freshman campaign. He had 61 catches, 776 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Junior Sean Tapley will start at the other end after he had 26 catches, 361 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Sophomore Kendrick Singleton didn’t catch a pass last year but will be the slot receiver in three wide sets. Junior tight end Eric Ebron was second team all-ACC with 40 catches, 625 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Jack Tabb will also get some targets at tight end after making 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown last year. Sophomore T.J. Thorpe missed all of last year and spring practice this year with a foot injury. When healthy, he is a very fast receiver and dynamic return man.
The biggest question on offense might be the line, which must replace 3 starters from last year, including All-American guard Jonathan Cooper, a first round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. Senior left tackle James Hurst, a second team All-ACC players last season, does return to anchor the line. Center Russell Bodine also returns and brings his tough and nasty attitude. Sophomore Kiaro Holts will likely take over at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson will take over for Cooper at one guard and sophomore Landon Turner will start at the other. Jarrod James will backup Bodine at center, but will see some minutes.
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North Carolina uses a unique 4-2-5 defense. Co-defensive coordinators Ron West and Dan Disch must replace their top two players in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick. The defense wasn’t terrible but did struggle sometimes like in the 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech.
Senior Defensive end Kareem Martin had 40 tackles, including 15.5 for loss, 4 sacks and 8 QB hurries. Junior Norkeithus Otis looks to be ahead of sophomore Shakeel Rashad for the “bandit” position, a hybrid end/ outside linebacker. Tackle Tim Jackson will start in place of Williams, a first round pick of the Denver Broncos. Jackson only weighs 285 pounds and had only 16 tackles, 4 for loss, and a sack. Junior Shawn Underwood will probably start at the other tackle. He had 18 tackles, including 2.5 for loss last year. Ethan Farmer, Devonte Brown, and Greg Webb add depth to the defensive line.
Junior linebacker Travis Hughes will start at the weak side. He made 33 tackles and forced 2 fumbles, while starting only 2 games last year. Junior Tommy Heffernan had 73 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and 3 sacks. Redshirt freshmen Dan Mastromatteo & Nathan Staub will compete with sophomore Jeff Schoettmer for the MLB position.
The secondary returns all five starters from last year. Senior free safety Tre Boston had 86 tackles and 4 picks last year. Sophomore Darien Rankin had 48 tackles and 3 interceptions. Junior cornerback Tim Scott had 13 pass break-ups, 4 picks, and 48 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Senior Jabari Price will start at the other corner after making 76 stops, 4 tackles for loss and breaking up 10 passes. Sophomore Sam Smiley and freshmen Domonique Green will platoon at strong safety. Junior Brandon Ellerbe will play the nickel back called the Ram in the UNC system.
Junior punter Tommy Hibbard was second team All-ACC averaging 43 yards per punt. Junior walk-on Thomas Moore will take over at kicker for Casey Barth. Moore made 12 extra points and 2 of 3 field goals last year.
Tapley and Morris will again return kicks after averaging 23.4 yards per return last year. Either could also return punts in place of Bernard who took two to the house last year. If Thorpe is healthy, he could be in the mix for both jobs.
North Carolina opens at border rival South Carolina, in what should be a tough test for the Tar Heels against a top ten ranked SEC team. Next up, home games against Middle Tennessee and East Carolina are sandwiched around ACC road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Miami and Boston College then come to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels play road games at NC State and ACC newcomer Pittsburgh. UNC hosts Virginia and Old Dominion, before hosting rival Duke in the season finale.
Even with the tough trip to South Carolina to open the season, UNC’s schedule is manageable. The Tar Heels avoid the two best teams in the ACC Clemson and Florida St until potentially the ACC Championship game. Trips to Atlanta and Blacksburg will be tough, but every other game is winnable. If the offensive line gels in time, the offense should score a lot of points. The defense could struggle to stop the run, but should have a very strong pass defense. I think 9 wins and an ACC Coastal title are a good possibility.
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