After serving a one-year postseason ban, North Carolina is poised to make a run at the ACC Coastal title in 2013.
The Tar Heels return 13 starters, including quarterback Bryn Renner and receiver Quinshad Davis. Even though guard Jonathan Cooper and running back Giovani Bernard must be replaced, North Carolina should have no trouble scoring points.
However, the defense remains a question mark. North Carolina allowed 25.7 points a game in 2012 and must replace tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick. The Tar Heels also struggled stopping opposing offenses late in the year, allowing 38 points to a Maryland team that was starting a linebacker at quarterback, and giving up 68 to Georgia Tech.
The ACC Coastal is a wide-open division. And the Tar Heels figure to be in the mix for the title, especially with a favorable crossover schedule against the Atlantic.
What will North Carolina's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
North Carolina's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
8/29 at South Carolina
9/21 at Georgia Tech
9/28 East Carolina
10/5 at Virginia Tech
10/26 Boston College
11/2 at NC State
11/16 at Pittsburgh
11/23 Old Dominion
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The more I look at North Carolina’s 2012 season, the more I am impressed with the job that Larry Fedora did in his first year. The Tar Heels had nothing to play for, yet went 8-4 and lost three games by five points or less. I’m giving Miami a slight edge to win the Coastal, but it wouldn’t shock me if North Carolina finishes at the top of the division. Provided the offensive line finds a replacement for standout guard Jonathan Cooper, the Tar Heels should rank near the top of the ACC in scoring. The defense is still in need of repair, but this unit should be better with another offseason to work with coordinator Vic Koenning. North Carolina has a favorable crossover slate, as it misses Clemson and Florida State in crossover play. However, the Tar Heels drew a tough road schedule, which includes trips to South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State and Pittsburgh.
Tar Heel Times (@TarHeelTimes) TarHeelTimes.com
The 2013 Tar Heels will be as good as their defense allows them to be. Despite an explosive, record-setting offensive performance in 2012, the UNC defense surrendered 26 points per game and seemed to have trouble at times adjusting to their new 4-2-5 scheme. If the defense can catch up with the offense in year two then the sky's the limit. However, the Tar Heels have a tough early-season slate with an opening-weekend visit to South Carolina and a trip to Georgia Tech, where they haven't won since 1997. If the defense can't adjust, then the Tar Heels will have plenty of offensive weapons to fall back on, despite some new faces on the offensive line. Quarterback Bryn Renner, tight end Eric Ebron, wide receiver Quinshad Davis, and running backs A.J. Blue and Romar Morris each have All-ACC caliber talent. UNC's trip to Virginia Tech will be problematic as will their Thursday night prime-time encounter with Miami in Chapel Hill, which is being dubbed "Zero Dark Thursday" and will feature UNC's black uniforms. The Heels also visit rival NC State, who boldly scheduled UNC as their homecoming game despite having a new coach and a first-year starting quarterback. UNC ends their regular season against Duke in Chapel Hill, which is always a close affair.
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), Atlantic Coast Convos
I'm sure I'm giving more credit to the Tar Heels than most, but look at that schedule. Outside of the dates against South Carolina and Miami (both losses in my book), are there really any games on this schedule where you truly doubt UNC? Both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are on the road, as is rival NC State, but each of those teams has their own respective reasons why they'll have some struggles this season. Expect Bryn Renner to be even more comfortable in Larry Fedora's offense this year, as he and A.J. Blue (who'll pick up right where Gio Bernard left off) lead this offense to one of the country's best scoring efforts.
Ryan Tice (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
The loss of running back Giovani Bernard to the NFL is a huge blow to the offense — both the ground and aerial attacks — as well as the punt return game. The Tar Heels have also lost some of their star offensive linemen, although left tackle James Hurst will be one of the ACC’s best. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back for his third year as the starter, receiver Quinshad Davis is a potential star in the making and tight end Eric Ebron is the league’s best at his position. However, the defense lost its best two players and that is the side that will really decide wins and losses after the Heels allowed nearly 400 yards of offense per game last season. In terms of the division race, the good news is that UNC gets 14 days to prepare for Georgia Tech on the road, and coaches always want as much time as possible to prepare for Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets. However, the schedule is a bear from that Sept. 21 date until Nov. 2 with an in-state rival that can’t be overlooked in East Carolina, a road game at Virginia Tech, a home tilt with division favorite Miami and then a road date at NC State following a breather against Boston College on Oct. 26.
Outside of a blowout loss to Georgia Tech, North Carolina's three other losses last season came by a total of nine points. Yes, the Tar Heels lost key personnel on both sides of the ball, but there's plenty of talent coming back and both units should be even more comfortable in Larry Fedora's no-huddle spread attack and the unique 4-2-5 defensive scheme this fall.
The offense, with quarterback Bryn Renner, wide receiver Quinshad Davis and tight end Eric Ebron leading the way, should score plenty of points. The Tar Heels' season success will come down to how much better the defense plays, especially against the pass. Opening up on the road against South Carolina will not be easy, but as long as Renner emerges unscathed against Jedeveon Clowney and company, the Tar Heels should at least keep the ACC Coastal race interesting.
The key to this is finding a way to get some wins on the road (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State and Pittsburgh) and also beating Miami at home. Establishing some sort of a running game and cutting down on the big plays allowed on defense wouldn't hurt either.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
What stands out about North Carolina's schedule in the ACC this year is the toughness of the road slate. Few teams will play as tough a four-pack of games like at Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech, at NC State and at Pitt. A 1-3 record in that group might be considered a success. Bryn Renner is an underrated quarterback nationally, but the offense will have to replace loads of departed NFL talent. Quality quarterback play and a great offensive scheme gives UNC a chance to compete for a division crown. The Tar Heels will pull an upset or two — say, over Miami — but won't win enough on the road to get to Charlotte for the ACC title game.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
North Carolina’s going to be an interesting team to watch, especially on offense. Bryn Renner is going to need to take a greater lead of the offense with Giovani Bernard gone to the NFL. Offensive line may be a bit of a question, but the Heels have three starters back to a team that allowed less than one sack per game. I like the way the season ends for North Carolina. If the Tar Heels can get out of those first six games with a winning record, they could win the division. I’ve picked Carolina to lost to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have defeated Carolina in seven of the last eight meetings. After that, North Carolina needs to look for a split against the defensive power of the division (Virginia Tech) and the best offensive team in the division (Miami).
Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky), NunesMagician.com
Some things about North Carolina you may not realize: Butch Davis is long gone; Larry Fedora is in, and is heading for year two as coach. The Tar Heels' NCAA issues of the last few seasons are mostly over and this team was actually pretty good last year. The off-field turmoil is over and that means it's probably time to pay attention to North Carolina, especially with the return of Bryn Renner at quarterback and Quinshad Davis at wideout. The duo of Renner and Davis will be lighting up ACC defenses, which is good news for fans of big plays. Plus, anyone else excited to see the Tar Heels offense against South Carolina week one? A weak offensive line could make that game...interesting. The defense, which was an issue at points last season, does return six starters, but will likely still be a problem for Fedora. Which is another reason the Tar Heels, a sneaky team in the ACC, should be something of appointment viewing this fall. Close, high scoring games are always fun to watch.
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