CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 23 North Carolina

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2013 record: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in ACC (5th in Coastal Division)
2013 postseason: Belk Bowl vs. Cincinnati (39-17 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Larry Fedora (49-29 overall; 15-10 in 2 years at UNC)
Co-Offensive coordinators: Gunter Brewer (3rd season at UNC); Chris Kapilovic (3rd season at UNC)
2013 offensive rankings: 85th rushing offense (148.31 ypg); 28th passing offense (277.4ypg); 49th total offense (425.7 ypg); 43rd scoring offense (32.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 9
Defensive coordinator: Dan Disch (3rd season at UNC)
2013 defensive rankings: 83rd rushing defense (182.38 ypg); 50th passing defense (220.7 ypg); 64th total defense (403.1 ypg); 43rd scoring defense (24.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium (63,000; natural grass)
Last conference title: 1980

THE GOOD
If you believe in ending one year on a high note having any impact on the following season, then consider UNC the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. The Tar Heels ended the 2013 season by winning five of their final six regular season games to become eligible for postseason play and then ran away from Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Few teams ended the year on a hotter streak than the Tar Heels, so the pressure will be on to not have to dig out of a hole in the early going this season. Fortunately, despite losing some key players on offense like tight end Eric Ebron, Fedora’s offense should be ready to get off to a quick start this season. Now in year three under Fedora, the offense and defense both seem to be progressing and are expected to continue that development this fall. The defense returns seven starters, which should help that cause early on.

THE BAD
North Carolina tends to play some undisciplined football, and that can come back to haunt a team at any given time. The Tar Heels were called for a penalty more than any other team in the ACC (96 penalties), besides Syracuse (99 penalties). No other school in the ACC had more than 81 penalties last season. Those penalties add up as well. The average penalty yardage per game against UNC was 63.9 ypg, the most in the ACC (831 yards in total). That is more yards than two teams rushed for all of last season (Purdue and Washington State). UNC has to kick this habit. The Tar Heels have been ranked 9th or lower in the ACC in penalty yardage each season since 2009.

THE UNKNOWN
North Carolina can be a pretty good team if everything is working in sync right from the start. That has been a problem for Fedora’s Tar Heels since he arrived in Chapel Hill. North Carolina can be a streaky team it seems, but in a division that could be wide open for the taking, a slow start or a lull somewhere in the middle of the year is not going to have a good result. When UNC is firing on all of Fedora’s Red Bull-fueled cylinders, they can be the class of the ACC Coastal. The schedule throws some challenges with road games at Clemson, Miami and Duke, but if UNC is at the top of its game then all three are games capable of being won. Does this team have the mentality to take charge as the top team in the Coastal? That remains to be seen.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Miami
There are a few games worth noting for North Carolina this season (at Clemson on September 27 and home against Virginia Tech on October 4 perhaps being equally as worthy), but the road game at Miami could be the game that swings the entire race in the ACC Coastal in favor of the Tar Heels. In what could easily be a wide-open division race with as many as four or five teams in the hunt into November, division games will be critical. Heading into a bye week with a win and some momentum could be huge for UNC as they finish up at home against Pittsburgh and NC State with a road game at Duke in-between.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Marquise Williams
There has been much to say about a quarterback competition in Chapel Hill heading into the 2014 season, but Williams may be the best option to go with after the way he helped spark the second half success last fall. Last fall Williams completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also ended the season as UNC’s leading rusher with 536 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. He gives opposing defenses something to think about when he is on the field, and he may give Fedora more wrinkles in the playbook.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Ex-Baylor player Sam Ukwuachu has sexual assault conviction overturned by appeals court

Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP
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Former Baylor and Boise State football player Sam Ukwuachu has had his conviction for sexual assault overturned, but he is far from free just yet. The 10th Couth of Appeals in Texas overturned a sexual assault conviction on Thursday and is sending the case back to district court for a brand new trial.

The Court of Appeals determined phone evidence used by the prosecution was improperly used and attained.

“In six issues, Ukwuachu complains that the trial court erred by allowing the State to reference the cell phone records of his roommate during its cross-examination of his roommate and his roommate’s friend, that the indictment was defective, that evidence of an extraneous offense was improperly admitted, that his due process rights were violated due to an abuse of the grand jury process by the State, and that text messages between the victim and a friend of hers the night of the alleged offense were improperly excluded,” an elaborate ruling from the Court of Appeals explained. “Because we find that the trial court erred by disallowing the admission of evidence … we reverse the judgment of conviction and remand this proceeding for a new trial.”

“While I respect the 10th Court of Appeals, I disagree with their decision and reasoning in this case,” McLennan County District Attorney Abelk Reyna said upon learning of the appeal decision. “I am extremely confident in the decisions made by our prosecutors and the rulings made by Judge Johnson in the trial of this case.”

Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State to Baylor after being dismissed by the Broncos program in 2013, reportedly following a case of depression in Boise. Boise State denied any knowledge of Ukwuachu’s violence toward women when he was with the program, which was prompted by comments from former Baylor head coach Art Briles. Former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen did claim to have informed Briles of Ukwuachu’s violent past.

Ukwuachu was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years probation for rape in August 2015.

The alleged victim of Ukwuachu has already settled a lawsuit with Baylor.

Arkansas state senate votes to revise concealed gun law to prevent guns in football stadiums

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One day after Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill to allow concealed guns to be carried into football stadiums, the state senate voted to make an exemption to block guns on game day.

The house bill that was signed into law by the governor this week would have allowed those with proper training to be allowed to bring a concealed handgun into an otherwise restricted area such as a football stadium. The bill overruled any stadium policies banning weapons as well, but that will no longer be the case.

According to the Associated Press, the Arkansas state senate voted 22-10 in favor of an exemption to the rule that would uphold a weapons ban in football stadiums throughout the state. The law will still allow those with the proper training to carry a concealed handgun on college campuses, in bars and government buildings, but football stadiums are off limits.

The amended bill still must pass through the House of Representatives in Arkansas.

Second Vols player this week could be on his way out

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Attrition is hitting Tennessee’s depth on the defensive side of the ball this early on in the spring.

Tuesday, reports surfaced that safety Stephen Griffin had decided to transfer out of Butch Jones’ Volunteers football program.  Two days later, it appears one of Griffin’s former teammates, linebacker Gavin Bryant, is headed toward a similar departure.

The football program has not addressed Bryant’s with the Vols moving forward.

A four-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class, Bryant (pictured, taking a knee to the helmet) was rated as the No. 10 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Alabama. After redshirting as a true freshman, Bryant played in 21 games the past two seasons as a reserve linebacker.

Griffin, meanwhile, was a three-star 2015 prospect who played in 10 games last season. He started one of those contests.

D-II head coach to reportedly take RBs coach job at Syracuse

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It appears Dino Babers is on the verge of, once again, completing his Syracuse coaching staff.

FootballScoop.com is reporting that reporting that Justin Lustig (pictured, left) is leaving his job as the head coach at Div. II Edinboro (Pa.) College to take over as running backs coach at Syracuse.  Additionally, Lustig will serve as special teams coordinator for the Orange.

This will mark Lustig’s first job at a Power Five program.

Lustig replaces Mike Hart, who left earlier this month to take the running backs coach job at Indiana.  Tom Kaufman, who oversaw Syracuse’s special teams as well as coached linebackers, took the defensive coordinator job at an FCS program two weeks ago.

Hired in January of last year, Lustig took over an Edinboro team that finished 0-11 in 2015 and turned them into a 9-2 squad one year later.  For that turnaround, he was named the Div. II Coach of the Year.

Lustig’s last job at the FBS level came at Ball State, where he served as running backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2011-15.  He also earned the title of assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.