The ACC Coastal has been unpredictable for several years. Different programs have won the division in each of the last five seasons. While Miami may be separating itself from the others going forward, uncertainty still reigns in the Coastal.
While North Carolina may not have championship aspirations following their 3-9 2017 season, the lack of dominance in the division provides an opportunity for a big improvement this coming fall. First, the Heels have to get some questions answered, something that will begin this week with the opening of spring practice.
5 Storylines to Watch During North Carolina’s Spring Practice
It all starts here. Chazz Surratt showed some promise in the first half of the 2017 season, but he was later replaced by Nathan Elliott. While two early entry freshmen — Jace Ruder and Cade Fortin — also will be involved, the true battle will be between the two holdovers. Head coach Larry Fedora would love for someone to stake their claim as the guy before spring drills are completed.
Beyond finding a starting quarterback, remaining healthy is the biggest issue. Players with injury histories oftentimes get hurt again and those around the program have to be wary after what happened last year. A key Tar Heel to keep an eye on is linebacker Cole Holcomb. The senior linebacker that led the team tackles in each of the past two seasons was banged up for much of 2017 and Carolina needs him to be 100 perecent this fall.
3. Stopping the run
North Carolina finished 113th in rush defense this past season, surrendering 213 yards per game. That was actually a slight improvement from 2016, when the Tar Heels allowed 227 yards on the ground a game. And that was better than 2015 when they gave up 247 yards per contest. Over the past four seasons, North Carolina has allowed an average of 232 rushing yards per game. This program can only ascend so high if the opposition is able to run at will.
4. Finding help for Anthony Ratliff-Williams
Can Dazz Newsome take the next step and become a viable second option behind Ratliff-Williams (above, right)? If he can it would make life a whole lot easier for whoever is throwing passes for the Heels. UNC also hopes that redshirt freshman J.T. Cauthen and early entry Dyami Brown can help take some pressure off their star receiver.
5. Offensive line
Guard Tommy Hatton has decided to call it a career due to concussions and Bentley Spain, R.J. Prince and Khaliel Rodgers have run out of eligibility. The injury problems allowed younger players to get some snaps in both games and practices last fall, but this spring the coaching staff will have to figure out which players fit in at which spots.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.