CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 North Carolina

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in ACC (4th-tie in Coastal)

2011 postseason: Independence Bowl (41-24 loss to Missouri)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Larry Fedora (34-19 overall, first season at North Carolina)

Offensive coordinator: Blake Anderson (first season at UNC, first as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 76th rushing offense (138.8 ypg); 36th passing offense (254.4 ypg); 53rd total offense (393.2 ypg); 56th scoring offense (28 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: eight

Defensive coordinator: Dan Disch (first season at UNC, first as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 27th rushing defense (123.9 ypg); 78th passing defense (241.3 ypg); 49th total defense (365.2 ypg); 56th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: five

Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium (62,980; grass)

Last league title: 1980

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
You ever have a gut feeling about something for no readily apparent reason?  Welcome to UNC at No. 18, y’all!!!  Actually, there are two valid reasons for their stunning — “Stupid’s more like it,” John Taylor’s inner voice said in off-the-record comments — inclusion in the Top 25, let alone the Top 20.  One, my supreme confidence in Larry Fedora as a head coach possessing the ability to right the listing Tar Heels football ship immediately.  And, two, the presence of quarterback Bryn Renner.  Aside from that?  It’s hard to explain the inexplicable.

The Bad
The schedule, for one, which features road trips to Wake Forest, Louisville, Miami and Virginia, and home dates with Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.  It’s not exactly an SEC murderer’s row, but it will serve as a stiff challenge in Fedora’s first season. Then there’s this: 53rd/49th in total offense/defense, 56th in scoring offense and scoring defense in 2011. And there’s the fact that UNC has almost nothing to play for thanks to a postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA.  Remind me again why we’re here with the Tar Heels?  Oh yeah, the whole gut thing.  On a completely unrelated note, I obviously need to hit the gym way more than I normally do.

The Unknown
You could place at least a couple of things under this heading.  How the Tar Heels respond to the 180-mph Fedora.  How they respond to no shot at a postseason berth.  The unknowns are so numerous, in fact, that anyone including them in a preseason in a Top 25 is delusional at best or … dammit.  Never mind.

Make-or-break game: vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 6
In the midst serving out their NCAA sanctions, the role of spoiler is the best to which the Tar Heels can hope to climb in 2012.  As the Hokies are the consensus pick to run away with the Coastal Division, the game in Chapel Hill will serve as UNC’s best opportunity to play the spoiler.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Bryn Renner
In his first year as UNC’s starter, Renner led the ACC in passing efficiency.  With Fedora onboard, nothing less than progress that may eventually, at some point in the season, be measured in leaps and bounds for the junior should be expected.  Last season, Renner completed over 68 percent of his passes for nearly 3,100 yards and 26 touchdowns, numbers that could/should improve in the new offense.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Neal Brown completes Troy staff with FCS co-DC

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For the most recent addition to his Troy coaching staff, Neal Brown has dipped into the Football Championship Series.

The Sun Belt Conference program confirmed Tuesday that Brandon Hall has been hired by Brown as his new linebackers coach.  Hall had spent the past four seasons as the co-defensive coordinator at FCS Jacksonville State.

“Brandon is an outstanding defensive coach and has experience coaching at a lot of different levels,” a statement from Brown. “He is relentless on the recruiting trail and already has developed strong relationships in the areas that we believe are key. Looking at his track record, it comes as no surprise that Brandon helped build one of the top defenses in the FCS at Jacksonville State over the last four years.”

Prior to JSU, Hall had spent time at Arkansas State, Auburn and Oklahoma.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to join this program and coaching staff,” Hall said in his statement. “You can’t help but get excited as a coach when you look at what Coach Brown and the rest of this staff has done over the past three years with the Troy program. My family and I are looking forward to becoming part of the Trojan Family and continuing the strong tradition of Troy football.”

Longtime UCLA staffer Angus McClure’s hire one of two announced by Nevada

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The departure of a longtime UCLA staffer has officially been confirmed.

Late last week, reports surfaced that Angus McClure was leaving UCLA for a position at Nevada.  Tuesday, the Mountain West Conference football program confirmed that McClure has been hired as Jay Norvell‘s new offensive line coach.

McClure had been with the Bruins since 2007, serving at various times as position coach for both sides of UCLA’s lines as well as special teams.  Most recently, McClure had served as recruiting coordinator for the Pac-12 school.

McClure and Norvell have a prior working relationship as they were both on the same staffs at Nebraska and UCLA.

In addition to McClure, David Lockwood was announced as Nevada’s new safeties coach.  Lockwood was on the UNLV staff last season after spending the previous three years as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona.

“I think we made our staff stronger with these two veteran hires,” Norvell said in a statement. “I’m excited about the experience and expertise that we have added to the Wolf Pack coaching staff.”

Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey dies at 84

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Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey died on Saturday night at the age of 84.

A Texas native, Dickey played quarterback at Houston in the 1950’s and started his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater. From there he took assistant jobs at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas and North Carolina before landing the K-State job ahead of the 1978 season. He went 25-53-2 in seven-plus seasons on the job, which doesn’t look like much at first blush until one takes stock of where the Wildcat football program was at the time.

Dickey took Kansas State to the Independence Bowl in 1982, a 14-3 loss to Wisconsin, which was the first bowl appearance in program history. He was named the Big 8’s Coach of the Year for that season.

After back-to-back 3-win seasons in 1983 and ’84, he was let go after an 0-2 start to the 1985 campaign. The program would remain historically down until future College Football Hall of Famer Bill Snyder built the program up in the 1990’s.

Dickey finished out his career as an assistant on the pre-Steve Spurrier Florida teams before retiring in 1989. He lived at a rest home in Houston at the time of his passing, according to the Manhattan Mercury. Dickey’s son, Darrell Dickey, is the former head coach at North Texas and currently the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Mario Cristobal reportedly reuniting with former assistant in Eugene

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The Oregon coaching staff is going to have a specific South Florida flavor to it. Head coach Mario Cristobal is a Miami native, a former Hurricanes player and assistant, and the former head coach at Florida International. On Tuesday, Cristobal moved to bring a fellow South Floridian with him to the Pacific Northwest.

According to Grant Traylor of the Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch, Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is leaving the staff to reunite with Cristobal in Eugene.

Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman added Mirabal will work under Cristobal, who will handle the offensive line.

Mirabal is also a native of Miami and a Florida International graduate. He spent the first decade-plus of his career working in Miami’s high school ranks before joining Cristobal’s FIU staff as tight ends and later offensive line coach from 2007-12. He landed at Marshall in 2013 after Cristobal was forced out at FIU, where he remained until Tuesday.

Under Mirabal’s guidance, Marshall finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed at just 0.85 per game. Oregon finished 54th nationally in that same metric.