2019 College Football Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

(Photo, Q. Davis, UNC Football 2013)

North Carolina Tar Heels

Head Coach: Mack Brown

2018 Record: 2-9, 1-7 Conference

Bowl: N/A

O/U 5 wins (O EVEN, U -130)

Make 4 Team Playoff: +90000

The North Carolina Tar Heels were something of a disaster in 2018, winning just one conference game (over Pittsburgh) and finishing last in the ACC Coastal Division for the second straight season. It has just three wins in its last 24 tries against legitimate (FBS) competition, but the team could take something of a modest upswing this season with Mack Brown back to attempt (another) rebuilding effort. He led the team to 10 and 11 wins in 1996 and 1997 but then he left for Texas.

Brown is hoping he can return the Tar Heels back to elite status, and his recruiting alone should improve the program. While expectations should not ramp up too soon, Brown is a proven program rebuilder, and this is one he is familiar with.

Offense

Brown wants to install the “Air Raid” offense and he hired Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil London to undertake that task. The up-tempo system it used under former head coach Larry Fedora will still factor in here.

The Tar Heels had three players vying for the quarterback role, but it was won by Sam Howell. Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder will wait in the wings. All three spent spring learning the system, but Howell took the lead and he will have to be ready from the opening snap with such a demanding system. If he falters, Fortin or Ruder easily could factor in as backups.

The strength of UNC offensively is its backfield. Michael Carter and Antonio Williams are powerful top-2 options, and Carter is great at breaking tackles while Williams is more of a banger and bruiser. Even with the Air Raid offense, these two will see plenty of carries. The offensive line will have to be up for this task. Heck started the last two years at right tackle, but he moves to left tackle this season. Nick Polino moves from left guard to center, and the Tar Heels have mostly unproven player surrounding this pair.

The WRs were inconsistent during spring practices and dropped a lot of passes. The group has great speed, but it is going to have to grow a set of hands collectively. Dazz Newsome returns after leading UNC with 44 receptions last season, and Dyami Brown has the athleticism to get open as well as any WR on the team.

Defense

Jay Bateman takes over as defensive coordinator, after doing well at Army with major dearths of talent overall. He will shift between a 3-4 and 4-3 look, with blitzes being common in both formats. Tomon Fox and linebacker Dominique Ross are both great pass rushers to carry this M.O. out. Seniors Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge are both strong on the line, and freshman DT Brant Lawless looked great in spring, as well.

The linebacking group loses Cole Holscomb to graduation, and he led the team in tackles the last three seasons. Senior Jonathan Smith will step in there, but he missed spring due to academic issues. Ross is a leader in this unit, but it needs several to step up. In the secondary, Myles Dorn returns at safety and Patrice Rene is back at cornerback. Both led the team with two interceptions apiece last season. The Tar Heels did, however, lose three CBs and depth will be an issue in the secondary. Nickel Back Trey Morrison is an effective blitz tool, and he started last year as a freshman.

Special Teams

UNC has to replace its placekicker and its punter from last season. Spring performances at these positions were largely uninspiring. Noah Ruggles has a little bit of experience in the form of two PATs taken last year. Newsome is a great punt returner. He had a 75-yard punt return against Syracuse last season.

Final Word

UNC should rebound this year, but to what degree is a matter of guessing. The ACC Coastal division is weak enough that really any team in it can contend, but quarterback might be an area of concern with the demands of this new offense. UNC won just two of 10 games last year that were decided by seven points or less, so the team is not as bad as a 2-10 mark might suggest really. Even so, Mack Brown is cautious in setting the bar too high for his team with a long haul to return this program back to relevancy.

Prediction: 5 wins

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