GREENSBORO Larry Fedora took his seat in front of a crowd of reporters at the annual ACC Kickoff, placed his usual Red Bull in front of him and took a quick look at the ACC preseason media poll, where his North Carolina team had been picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division.
“Wide open,” he said moments later, speaking of a division in which six of the seven teams received at least one first-place vote – a division in which UNC received the second-most first-place votes but finished behind Miami, Duke and Virginia Tech in the poll. “… I think anybody can win it.”
A few moments later, someone asked about the “guesses” media members had made. Fedora had some fun with it.
“I wouldn’t say they’re guesses, because you guys know,” Fedora said, smiling, with a sense of sarcasm. “I mean, you all (are) the ones who know, right?”
If anything, the poll proved no one has much of an idea of what will happen in the Coastal. It proved it is indeed wide open, as wide open as either the Atlantic or Coastal Division has been since the ACC went to the format before the 2005 season.
Amid all of the uncertainty, though, Fedora knows at least one thing: That if ever the Tar Heels are to make a move and take control of the Coastal, if ever UNC is to rise above a crowd of contenders, that time is now, with the division seemingly there for the taking.
“It is an opportunity that we want to take advantage of,” Fedora said. “I mean, that’s the thing. Because if we’re going to continue to grow at the rate we want to grow and get to where we want to be, this is an opportunity that we need to seize. We don’t need to let this slip by.”
Something to build on
There have been bright spots during Fedora’s first two seasons, but also times when the Tar Heels allowed the moment to pass by. There was the late collapse against Duke in 2012, and one against Miami a season ago.
There was the 1-5 start last season, and the 6-1 finish that left Fedora wishing the season could last a while longer. And now, entering his third season, after three recruiting classes and two years to install his system and his schemes, there is belief the time to make a move has arrived.
“It’s time,” Fedora said. “We need to get it done. There are pieces of the puzzle that are in place. Would I like them to be more experienced? Yes. But if we can make the ball bounce a couple times our way, then it could happen.”
Three years ago, at this same event, Fedora was asked whether there was a position where he liked his team’s depth. Tight end, he said then. And that was it.
Asked the same question Monday, he named several positions: quarterback, running back and cornerback. Things are moving in the right direction, he said.
The Tar Heels are young, though. There’s not a senior to be found on the offensive line depth chart, and just one senior – tight end Jack Tabb – is projected to be a starter on offense. Defensively, four seniors are projected to start, but the team will be reliant on underclassmen, still, especially in the secondary.
Fedora seemed less concerned by youth than hopeful of his young players’ potential. He’s hopeful, too, that UNC can break its trend of good, but not great, seasons.
The Tar Heels won seven games last season and eight the season before that. That has been the pattern: seven- and eight-win seasons in each of the past six years. UNC hasn’t won more than eight games since 1997, which also is the most recent season it finished ranked among the Top 25.
Expectations are greater now – if not externally then certainly internally.
“We want to change this football team around,” Marquise Williams, a junior quarterback, said Sunday. “The other day I started to break down the huddle. We were saying ACC Coastal (champions). I said, we’re going to break it down as ACC champions. Because I want to change things around.”
Tight division expected
An ACC championship might not be the most realistic goal with Florida State’s resurgence. A Coastal Division championship, though, seems within reach.
Fedora branded UNC the Coastal champion in 2012, when the Tar Heels finished in a three-way tie for first place and would have won the tiebreaker if not for being ineligible to participate in the postseason. The division race was tight that year, and again last year.
And if the preseason predictions are correct, it’ll be close again come late November. Last season, Duke won the Coastal Division on the final weekend of the regular season, and the Blue Devils won it when they beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
When Fedora comes to the office every day, he knows the reigning division champions are less than 10 miles down the road in Durham. It hasn’t increased the pressure, Fedora said. If anything, Duke’s ascent last season showed what’s possible in a division that has no favorite.
“I don’t think you can put more pressure than I put on us already,” Fedora said. “I mean, I think we’re on track for the plan. I think we do need to take advantage of the opportunity this year of this thing being wide open.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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