After a brief delay to the start of the new season, it is time to play some college football in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After making his return to the North Carolina Tar Heels last year, Mack Brown is ready to take UNC to the next step and prove why the team is already being considered an ACC contender in 2020. With a star quarterback in Sam Howell and a roster loaded with returning experience, not to mention a schedule that won't include Clemson, this could be a big year for North Carolina.
First up for the Tar Heels is a matchup with the Syracuse Orange. The Orange are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in 2019 following a surprising '18 season lifted Cuse fan's hopes. After some coaching staff changes and a lack of a full spring practice schedule, it is unknown just how crisp Syracuse will be to start the new season.
Syracuse at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: North Carolina -22.5
When Syracuse Has the Ball
Among the biggest questions for Syracuse heading into the first game of the season is who will be carrying the football. With the departure of last season's leading rusher, Moe Neal, the next two in line figured to be Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams. The only problem is neither player has been seen at practices, neither appeared on the depth chart this week, and while head coach Dino Babers has not been willing to shed much light on their respective situations, it has been reported that both plaeyrs have opted out. Instead, it could be redshirt freshman Jawhar Jordan's time to shine, as he appears first on the depth chart a year after getting 15 touches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
The other priority for the Syracuse offense will be setting a foundation on the offensive line. Quarterback Tommy DeVito was sacked 35 times last season, and he lived to tell about it. And, apparently, he's back for more with the hope of having more experience returning up front will be a reward for enduring last season.
When North Carolina Has the Ball
It is time to begin to learn if the offseason hype was legitimate or not. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell headlines the Tar Heel defense after a stellar freshman campaign. Howell passed for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns with just seven interceptions thrown last season, which has fueled the offseason hype for his second year playing quarterback for Brown. But Howell won't be doing it alone.
North Carolina returns 1,000-yard rusher Michael Carter to provide veteran leadership on the ground and UNC's receiving crop is all intact from last season, including 1,000-yard receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown (who combined for 22 touchdown receptions in 2019).
The ingredients for the most consistent offense in the ACC are in place in Chapel Hill. And going up against a Syracuse defense that will be in transition without the typical offseason to make some adjustments should lead to a solid 2020 debut for the UNC offense.
There are plenty of reasons to like UNC as an ACC contender this season, and they could all be on display in their season opener. The only question will be how the unique set of circumstances to the offseason has impacted both teams in preparing for their season debut. If Week 1 of the college football season was any indication, even the teams you should have the most faith in can still look a little rusty in their first time going against an opponent. That could come into play here, but Mack Brown has the luxury of having an offense with a ton of starting experience back and one of the top rising stars at quarterback leading the charge.
Prediction: North Carolina 34, Syracuse 17
(Top photo courtesy of goheels.com)