North Carolina Tar Heels
Head Coach: Larry Fedora
2015 Record: 11-3
2015 Bowl: 49-38 Loss to Baylor at Russells Athletic Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 7 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +13500
Odds to win 2016 ACC Championship: +1050
Regular Season over/under: over 9 (-145), under 9 (-175)
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North Carolina finished 11-3 last season on the heels of Marquise Williams’ final days as a collegiate player. Williams and the Tar Heels averaged 40.7 points per game and 486.9 yards per game in 2015, good for No. 9 and No. 18 in the NCAA, respectively.
But UNC lost not only Williams, with also WR Quinshad Davis and G Landon Turner both graduating. Even with those three (HUGE) losses, the Tar Heels should be able to pick up right where they left off, even if the 11 wins from last season are a bit of a reach.
Why is it possible? Because just about every other key player does return, including Elijah Hood, who was All-ACC at running back. At WR, UNC returns Bug Howard, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer—that is a trio as good as any in the ACC, including Florida State.
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The biggest change will come at the position Williams vacated though, with Mitch Trubisky ready to take over at QB. The redshirt junior was a huge recruit in 2012, and he has looked great in the playing time he was able to garner behind Williams. Fedora was slow to name him the starter, despite everyone knowing he would be; but now that the cat is out of the bag UNC fans are ready to see the biggest QB recruit in school history.
UNC’s defense was strong for most of last season, but the part that was not ‘most’ was pretty horrendous. Clemson and Baylor both punished North Carolina for a season that had gone so well, scoring a combined 94 points in those final two games, the loss in the ACC championship and UNC’s bowl appearance at the Russells Athletic Bowl. Clemson had 608 yards and Baylor had 756. Baylor rushed for 645 of those. And rush defense was UNC’s (unexposed until then) Achilles’ heel last season.
UNC also lost Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer on the line. The DL and secondary return most of its key performers, though. The front needs to improve, but DT Nazair Jones and ends Dajuan Drennon and Mikey Bart all should play their roles in that.
It is the secondary where the Tar Heels should shine with two All-ACC caliber players in Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart. Donnie Miles returns at safety, too and will start opposite Dominiquie Green, who is entering his senior season.
The defense vastly improved last season, but it will need to put together a full season of it now and avoid the collapse that befell it at the end of 2015.
Nick Weiler hit 20 of 23 FGA last season. Ryan Switzer is one of the best punt returners in the nation and he had two returned for TDs last season. He is one TD away from tying the NCAA record for punt return TDs.
UNC opens the season Sept. 3 against Georgia in Atlanta. Week 2 it travels to face Illinois, and it will have a couple cake walks after that in James Madison and Pitt, both at home. The fireworks then begin with an Oct. 1 showdown against Florida State in Tallahassee. The Tar Heels close the regular season Nov. 25 against N.C. State.
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UNC likely cannot replicate its 11 wins from last season, even if the team is nearly as good. It was the Tar Heels first time playing in the ACC title game, and returning there is a distinct possibility being in the weaker Coastal division. Taking out Clemson or Florida State, or even Louisville, is a tall glass of water, but perhaps Trubisky just takes this program to an even higher level still. That was what he was recruited to do.
Prediction: 10 wins
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