The Tar Heels will miss Cole Holcomb's production and leadership at linebacker
The 2018 North Carolina football season will be remembered as the one that ended Larry Fedora’s run in Chapel Hill. a 2-9 season didn't feature a lot of positive developments, but here are some awards for the UNC football team.
Offensive MVP: Dazz Newsome, WR
Antonio Ratliff-Williams could have been the call here as well, but Newsome became a viable second option in the passing game and actually finished with more receptions than Ratliff-Williams. Plus, Newsome was sixth nationally in punt returns. While that is not technically offensive yardage, it is yardage.
Defensive MVP: Cole Holcomb, LB
The senior had 40 more tackles than anyone else on the team. He didn’t make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage — just eight tackles for lost yardage — but he was a solid presence in the middle of the Carolina defense.
Best Freshman: Trey Morrison, CB
The true freshman from Norcross, Georgia, played his way into a starting nickelback spot and his 40 unassisted tackles were third on the team. He also had 5.5 tackles for lost yardage and a couple of sacks.
Best Play of the Season: Dazz Newsome's 75-Yard Punt Return vs. Syracuse
When Newsome returned Sterling Hofrichter’s 58-yard punt for a score, it put North Carolina up 21-20 in third quarter. The Cuse won in two overtimes, but for a few moments, there was hope.
Best Performance by a Player: Michael Carter vs. Virginia Tech
The sophomore running back gained 313 of his 597 yards in two games, with his best being the 165-yard effort against the Hokies. But it also seems fitting for the 2018 Heels, that in the best individual performance of the season, Carter fumbled before going into the Hokie end zone in the fourth quarter and Virginia Tech capitalized with an 18-play, 98-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.
Best Game (Team Performance): 38-35 Victory over Pittsburgh
It is kind of crazy that one of UNC’s two wins came against the team that won the Coastal Division. But it happened. Nathan Elliott was 22 of 31 for 313 yards with two touchdowns in the three-point victory at Kenan Stadium.
Defining Moment: Summer Problems
Trying to rebound from the 3-9 2017 season, Carolina made headlines last summer in a negative way. First, head coach Larry Fedora became a punch line for his remarks on football and CTE. Then a week later, 13 UNC players were suspended for multiple games for selling team-issued sneakers. With depth sapped, the Heels struggled to open the season and never recovered.
Biggest Surprise: The Continued Fight of the Team
Despite the woes of the past two seasons, Carolina battled until the end. Victories may have been elusive, but besides an embarrassing defeat at East Carolina and an ugly Thursday night loss to Miami at the end of September, the Heels were in every game. And in the season finale, they fought in every sense of the word, but fell in overtime to NC State.
Biggest Disappointment: Once Again, Rush Defense
Obviously, there were many disappointing aspects of the UNC season. But that Larry Fedora had no answer for opposing ground games was a problem. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, North Carolina has not finished better than 109th in rushing defense, so the No. 113 ranking was not a surprise, but it was again a major disappointment.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Cole Holcomb, LB
Holcomb battled through injury after injury during his career and leaves Chapel Hill with 327 total tackles. The leader of the defensive unit, UNC will have to replace more than just his on-field production.
Player to Watch in 2019: Cade Fortin, QB
Unless North Carolina solidifies the quarterback position, no big improvements will occur. Nathan Elliott is who he is and Chazz Surratt has done nothing to show he is any better. Fortin played in four games with mixed results, but with a new system in place, he could get his chance beginning this spring.
Offseason Storyline: Mack Brown
After 21 years away, Mack is back. There are plenty of questions and because of his age, his past success at Texas, and his relationship with the media, Brown has the spotlight on him and it will remain there all offseason.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.