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)

Florida adds South Alabama to 2020 schedule

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Florida may not be able to beat Alabama, so they’ll do their best to make sure they take care of South Alabama in 2020. The Gators and Jaguars added a future non-conference game to the 2020 schedule, with Florida paying South Alabama a reported $1.2 million for the game in Gainesville.

The two schools will meet for the first time on September 19, 2020 at Florida. The game will be played in Week 3, likely following an SEC game on Florida’s schedule. Florida is scheduled to open the season at home against FCS opponent Eastern Washington and has an opening likely to be filled by a conference game in Week 2 of the schedule. Florida now has just one non-conference scheduling vacancy to fill before 2021, with one spot available in 2019 (Florida opens in Orlando against Miami and has Florida State at the end of the year).

As a member of the SEC, Florida is required to play one power conference opponent each season. Obviously, South Alabama doesn’t satisfy that requirement, but the Gators play ACC rival Florida State on an annual basis so the scheduling requirement is fulfilled any time the Seminoles are tacked on the schedule. Florida will open the 2017 season against Michigan as well.

South Alabama has filled up the bulk of their non-conference slots through the 2022 season with a good dose of power conference opponents. South Alabama will play Ole Miss and Oklahoma State this year, Oklahoma State in 2018, and has future games lined up against Nebraska, Tennessee, and UCLA. South Alabama has just one vacancy to fill before the 2023 season, with one spot in 2021 available.

John Swofford turns down volume on Notre Dame to ACC talk

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If there are any serious conversations behind closed doors between the ACC and Notre Dame about potential football membership, ACC commissioner John Swofford is not showing his cards. In a radio interview Friday morning, Swofford was asked about the rumor the conference and the Fighting Irish have had discussions, to which Swofford avoided any controversy.

Swofford said the ACC and Notre Dame have not had any such discussions about Notre Dame joining the conference in football to complete its membership in the conference, but he also didn’t slam the door shut on the potential option down the line.

Earlier this month the rumor mill got turning in wild fashion after a radio interview saw FOX Sports broadcaster Tim Brando say “conversations have taken place” about the ACC adding Notre Dame as a full member. That comment alone got the gears working on some exaggerated headlines across the Internet, some going so far as to suggest the Irish were on the verge of joining the ACC and abandoning their football independence once and for all. As I suggested at the time, there is absolutely reason to believe Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick has had at least some degree of conversation with the ACC about the possibility, because a good AD would at least test the water on any and all potential scenarios should the time come the university approaches its football program differently.

The latest edition of the Notre Dame to ACC rumors followed the scheduling announcement from the ACC and Notre Dame for future game sin the ACC schedule rotation with the Irish through 2037.

Swofford did drop an interesting, although completely unsurprising, nugget of information as well when he mentioned the ACC would explore adding a 16th team to the fold if Notre Dame could be added in football. That alone will be enough to keep fans of certain programs interested in the ACC’s future, although they will all have to wait for a while in all likelihood, as no changes would be expected until current media rights deals expire and are up for renewal in the next decade.

Chip Kelly’s new ESPN gig could be pit stop back to college sideline

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After being cut from his second NFL job in as many years just after the college football coaching carousel came to a halt, we just knew Chip Kelly couldn’t keep himself away from the college football game this fall.

ESPN announced today Kelly has been hired to be a college football studio analyst with the network for the upcoming season.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting, said in a released statement. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”

Kelly says he is ready for the new job.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in his statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.”

Of course, the obvious thought here is this studio gig with ESPN is a one-year job at the most for Kelly, because his name will be one of the most popular names in the coaching rumor mills the moment something goes wrong at any number of programs this upcoming season. Kelly has been fending off rumors about his expected return to college coaching from the very beginning of his brief run in the NFL, first with the Philadelphia Eagles and then with the San Francisco 49ers. It’s pretty much par for the course for the former Oregon Ducks coach who also fought off NFL rumors for years before finally leaving for the NFL.

The job could be a good fit for Kelly, because he certainly knows his football and has a unique perspective to offer. Kelly could follow a path previously ventured by Rich Rodriguez (Michigan to CBS Sports Network to Arizona) and Urban Meyer (Florida to ESPN to Ohio State).

If there is one person who may be happy to have Kelly on board, it may be Monday Night Football analysts Jon Gruden, who now will hear a co-worker’s name heard in rumor mills more often for the next few months.

Academics will push 2017 four-star Auburn signee to a JUCO

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Until he gets his academic house in order, Alaric Williams‘ debut on The Plains will, at minimum, be delayed.

The 2017 signee confirmed via his Twitter account that, because he “came up short academically,” he will not play for Auburn this season.  Instead, the running back has signed with Garden City Community College and will play for the junior college in 2017.

In his tweet, Robinson intimated that, after his stint at the JUCO level, he’ll make his way to AU; whether that ultimately happens over the next several months remains to be seen.  The highly-touted signee also had a message for “the young recruits who are being highly recruited.”

“School is not something you play with,” the Alabama product wrote, adding, “I wish I would’ve realized that from the day I started high school.”

A four-star member of the Tigers’ most recent recruiting class, Williams was rated as the No. 12 player at any position in the state of Alabama. In addition to running back, the 6-0, 195-athlete was also being looked at as a slot receiver in AU’s offense.