2013: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
Coach: Larry Fedora, 3rd season (49-29 overall, 15-10 at UNC)
Offensive coordinator: Seth Littrell (1st season)
Defensive coordinator: Vic Koenning (3rd season)
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Returning starters: Offense 8, Defense 7, Specialists 4
Key returnees: WR Quinshad Davis (48 catches, 730 yards), RB T.J. Logan (533 yards, 4 TDs), Bandit Norkeithus Otis (50 tackles, 14 TFL, 8.5 sacks), WR Ryan Switzer (32 catches, 341 yards, 5 punt return TDs), QB Marquise Williams (1,698 passing yards, 536 rushing yards, 21 TDs).
Key losses: TE Eric Ebron (62 catches, 973 yards), LT James Hurst (49 starts), DE Kareem Martin (82 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks), QB Bryn Renner (1,765 passing yards, 10 passing TDs).
6 That’s how many seniors the Tar Heels have on their two-deep depth chart entering the season, and it could be five depending on the eligibility of defensive tackle Ethan Farmer. Fedora has said this is the youngest team he has ever coached, but he also has said “it’s time” for UNC to take a step forward.
Best-case scenario: None other than college football prognosticator extraordinaire Phil Steele picked the Tar Heels to end the season in the Orange Bowl. That seems a tad optimistic, but it’s not out of the question. UNC likely is to be an underdog at Clemson and either at Notre Dame or Miami – perhaps both – so a nine- or 10-win season isn’t unrealistic. To get there, a relatively inexperienced offensive line would have to come together, and the defense would have to take a step forward despite losing several productive starters from last season. The offensive skill players – Williams, Logan, Switzer and the rest of them – would have be as good as advertised.
Worst-case scenario: Anything less than eight victories would be a disappointment, but that doesn’t seem out of the question, either. Under Fedora, the Tar Heels haven’t consistently won program-elevating games, and they’ve had a troubling knack for losing games they probably should have won, too. If the offensive line struggles, if the offense isn’t as explosive as Fedora thinks it will be, and if the defense reverts to regularly allowing big plays, UNC easily can find itself losing to less talented teams again on its way to another six- or seven-win season.
Bottom line: The Tar Heels think they’re set at quarterback, regardless of whether Williams or Mitch Trubisky, a redshirt sophomore, winds up the permanent starter. The talent level at the skill positions on offense is as good as it has been in years, and there’s a lot to like about the defense, too, especially in the secondary. UNC might not have the top-end elite players it had under Butch Davis, but this is, top to bottom, as complete a team as it has had in a while. With the Coastal Division there for the taking, UNC should win nine games – or more – for the first time since 1997.
Aug. 30 vs. Liberty, 6
Sept. 6 vs. San Diego State, 8
Sept. 20 at East Carolina, TBA
Sept. 27 at Clemson, TBA
Oct. 4 vs. Virginia Tech, TBA
Oct. 11 at Notre Dame, 3:30
Oct. 18 vs. Georgia Tech, TBA
Oct. 25 vs. Virginia, TBA
Nov. 1 at Miami, TBA
Nov. 15 vs. Pittsburgh, TBA
Nov. 20 at Duke, 7:30
Nov. 29 vs. N.C. State, TBA