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You can read the entire Tar Heels preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#38 North Carolina
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora, 8-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Blake Anderson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vic Koenning
Say this much for North Carolina coach Larry Fedora: The man knows how to coach offense. Fedora used his fast-paced attack to help the Tar Heels set nearly 40 school records on offense in his first season at the helm, and more marks could fall in 2013.
Third-year starting quarterback Bryn Renner, who made big strides in the new system during the second half of last season, is the undisputed leader of the team. Renner posted four consecutive 300-yard passing games to close out 2012, and he picked up in the offseason right where he left off.
Renner won’t have do-it-all running back Giovani Bernard behind him this season, but UNC features a nice 1-2 punch on the ground with A.J. Blue and speedster Romar Morris. In the passing game, wide receiver Quinshad Davis and tight end Eric Ebron are two targets that any team would love to have.
The question facing UNC’s offense is up front, where the Tar Heels must replace three-fifths of the ACC’s top offensive line. Left tackle James Hurst is among the nation’s best players at his position, and Russell Bodine is a returning starter at center, but UNC needs some solid contributors to emerge at right tackle and both guard spots.
The outlook isn’t as rosy on this side of the ball. A unit that gave up at least 33 points in six games last season must replace its only two standout performers, linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.
Kareem Martin is UNC’s best returning defensive player, and he provides a legitimate pass-rush threat from his spot at end. Vocal leader Tim Jackson, who has played inside and outside during his career, takes over for Williams at tackle.
Tommy Heffernan was solid at linebacker a year ago, but UNC also needs Travis Hughes to emerge at that position and fulfill his potential. Finding playmakers at Bandit and Ram, two hybrid positions that place a premium on versatility in UNC’s 4-2-5 scheme, also is important. The Tar Heels have little returning experience at either spot.
The secondary, where UNC repeatedly gave up big plays a year ago, remains a concern. Senior Tre Boston led the team in tackles and tied for the lead in interceptions in 2012, but he must do a better job preventing receivers from getting behind him.
Fedora places a heavy emphasis on special teams, using many of his offensive and defensive starters in the kicking game. Morris and Sean Tapley are dynamic kickoff returners, but UNC must find someone to catch punts (muffs were a problem during the spring). Kicker Thomas Moore gained some experience over the last two years by filling in when Casey Barth was injured, but he has not been effective from long range. Punter Tommy Hibbard enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 while helping the Tar Heels lead the ACC in net punting.
Fans who like offense should get ready for another exciting season in Chapel Hill. Points should be plentiful once again — on both sides of the scoreboard.
The Tar Heels have sufficient firepower on offense as long as the offensive line can hold its own during a transition year up front and Renner can stay healthy. The latter, of course, is at least somewhat dependent upon the former.
On the other side of the ball, UNC players and coaches believe that a year of experience will lead to fewer missed assignments and penalties. With little proven talent on defense, the question is whether the Tar Heels can produce enough stops to emerge victorious from shootouts. The answer will go a long way in determining whether UNC can contend for the ACC Coastal Division crown.
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