If you were selecting a team with the worst injury luck last year, you’d be hard-pressed to ignore North Carolina. It wasn’t just that they were replacing Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Their injury list every week was at least twice as long as the next team (probably Florida because of the suspensions? Or maybe USC). It was almost comical. They bounced back and forth between quarterbacks as well, and at one point the team was 1-8 before winning 2 of their last 3 games (against Pitt and Western Carolina, hardly incredible). It was about as low as the team can get. They finished 3-9 after winning 8 and 11 games the 2 years before.
Despite those struggles, Larry Fedora is back for his 7th year as coach, and both coordinators remain as well. It’s an odd sight to see an entire coaching staff return after such an abysmal performance, but I guess they have the injuries to use as an excuse. This year, more will be expected.
The markets do not expect a giant bounce-back, as they have the Tar Heels’ win total at 5.5 -115 (5D), 5.5 -110 (BOL), and 5.5 -105/-125 (DSI). Do things set up well for North Carolina to get back to a bowl game?
|9/8||@ East Carolina||-18|
|9/27 (Th)||@ Miami (FL)||+17|
After an absurd year of quarterback changes and injuries to about 8 receivers or tight ends, finally some stability will hopefully return for the offense. Chazz Surratt figures to start at quarterback, and did OK in several games last year despite having no healthy weapons (1342 yards, 8/3 TD/INT ratio). Their 2 younger running backs return with more experience, and they add in an Ohio State transfer and an Auburn transfer to create a potentially potent backfield. As long as all of their receivers don’t get hurt again, they should be improved as well merely by playing football games. The offensive line is a huge question mark, as they lose 4 starters, and Surratt’s mobility may really come in handy if he has to run for his life.
2nd year for DC John Papuchis (who was the linebackers coach for 2 years before that) and despite injuries last season and the really poor record, this team was still in some games, and didn’t get completely wrecked on this side of the ball. They held Miami to 24 points and had every opportunity to win. They held Virginia to 20 and Duke to 27 but couldn’t win either as small dogs. Those 3 games alone are the difference between making a bowl and not. I guess what I’m saying is, it was bad, but not THAT bad. Now 8 starters are back, including almost their entire 2-deep on the defensive line, 2 linebackers, and 3 members of the secondary. You have to think the 2nd year in this system with this many returners can produce potentially good results.
The Tar Heels managed to schedule games with the 2 of the 3 directional Carolina schools that they have a clear advantage over. Their games against ECU and WCU should get them 2 wins pretty easily, while the other 2 non-conference games (Cal, UCF) will both be very challenging. In conference play, they draw Syracuse and NC State, which is about the best you can do. I’m pretty down on NC State, as they lost about 8 NFL players off of last year’s team, and Syracuse, while improving, is still the worst team from the Atlantic. This couldn’t have really set up better for them.
Win/Total pick: Over 5.5 -105 (DSI)
I don’t even like this team very much, but I think this number is about 0.5-1 too low. I like this schedule for them a lot. If you give me at East Carolina, vs Pitt, and vs Western Carolina right off the bat (which is not unreasonable), I need 3 of 9 and I get Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia Tech at home (all winnable). They also go to Syracuse, Duke, and Virginia, which are coinflips at worst. The softness of this schedule and the continuity that this coaching staff hopefully created, along with the experience so many guys got with all the injuries last year, will hopefully serve them well here. I’ll say Carolina gets back to a bowl this season.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Rebuilding jobs generally happen with teams that have new head coaches. The North Carolina Tar Heels don’t have a new head coach, but they have an entire offense to rebuild after a significant amount of talent moved on to the next level. Head coach Larry Fedora certainly has the chops to put together a strong season in Chapel Hill, but it is going to take some fast learning from a new starting quarterback and a new crop of skill position players.
Furthermore, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik retired, so the gains that have been made over the last two seasons on that side of the ball are now somebody else’s responsibility. Chizik inherited a defense that allowed 39 points per game and helped that unit cut its points against by more than two touchdowns to 24.5 points per game. The program doesn’t lack talent and has had a lot of success over the last two seasons, but there are a ton of question marks covered in Carolina Blue this season.
Those question marks extend to the betting market, where the Tar Heels have a season win total line of 7, with the under showing at -125 at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/16||@ Old Dominion||-4.5||0.63|
|9/30||@ Georgia Tech||+11||0.20|
|10/21||@ Virginia Tech||+14||0.15|
|11/9 (Th)||@ Pitt||+9||0.25|
|11/25||@ NC State||+13||0.17|
Total Expected Wins: 5.09
Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I have North Carolina rated much lower than a lot of others that I have spoken to and whose work I have read. The Tar Heels are a team that I am very much down on this season. The offense is a huge reason why. North Carolina lost 98.3 percent of its passing yards, 99.1 percent of its rushing yards, and 70.5 percent of its receiving yards from last season. Somebody is obviously going to put up numbers to replace those, but that’s a huge chunk of production to replace. It will probably fall first on LSU grad transfer Brandon Harris, who has never been able to stick as a full-time starter, even though nobody has really been knocking down the door in Baton Rouge.
Somebody will be able to run the football, but Elijah Hood and TJ Logan formed a 1-2 punch that ran for 1,583 yards on 265 carries with 15 touchdowns. The top returner on the depth chart had 20 carries as a true freshman. Austin Proehl caught 43 palls for 597 yards, but four of the top five receivers are gone, including Ryan Switzer, who had 96 receptions. Switzer and Logan were also top special teamers, so that part of the game is likely to regress as well. Technically only two starters from within the program return on the offensive line and the projected starting center is a grad transfer from Florida named Cameron Dillard. This side of the ball already regressed from 2015 to 2016 and could fall much farther this season.
Seven starters return on defense, but it has been a long time since the North Carolina defense was counted on to be the focal point of the team. Things went pretty well last season, especially with defending the pass, but the Tar Heels allowed 227 rushing yards per game with an average of 4.5 per carry. The back seven played well again and UNC hasn’t allowed a completion percentage against of 60 percent since 2011. John Papuchis takes over for Gene Chizik as the DC. He’s been coaching the linebackers, so the schemes aren’t going to change very much. That’s important because this group will have to be better.
Cole Holcomb, Andre Smith, and Donnie Miles all racked up over 100 tackles last season and they’re all back in the mix. Unfortunately, it looks like UNC will be a bit younger in the secondary this season, so the pass rush will need to improve. The Tar Heels had 25 sacks last season. Nazair Jones, a third-round pick to Seattle, had 2.5 of those and also had seven tackles for loss, so somebody will have to find a way to disrupt opposing offenses. There’s some talent on this side of the ball, though.
A late bye week isn’t great for a retooled offense. Having a week off before ACC play would have been nice to iron out the kinks, but that luxury isn’t possible because UNC plays Louisville right away in Week 2. Travel is almost all regional for UNC, though, with teams like Cal and Notre Dame coming down to Chapel Hill. The only rough travel spot is to Pittsburgh for a Thursday game, but that comes after a bye. The schedule is kind of favorable for a team in UNC’s position.
Win Total Pick: Under 7
It can be scary to take a stand with a team the way that I have with UNC, but this looks like a down year and a rebuilding year on paper. Going from Marqise Williams, who was a phenomenal fit for this offense, and Mitch Trubisky, a top-five NFL draft pick, to a guy that couldn’t keep a soft seat at LSU warm is a major concern. The Tar Heels have won at least six games in all of Fedora’s seasons and every year since 2007, so this is a bold stance to take, but they look like an under team to me. We’ll see how quickly I have to adjust in-season, but right now, it doesn’t look good.