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
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.
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.
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)