The No. 23 North Carolina Tar Heels are embracing their status as a member of the preseason Top 25, but sophomore sensation Ryan Switzer and junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer believe they have the tools to climb the rankings even further as the football season gets underway Saturday in Kenan Stadium.

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Switzer says he’s pretty excited about UNC’s preseason ranking for a number of reasons, but he believes the Tar Heels deserve their place among the nation’s elite.

“I think it’s pretty sweet to see your team’s name run across the ticker on ESPN. I pay attention to it. It means you have a responsibility to uphold. I don’t know how long it’s been since Carolina has come into the preseason ranked, but even when we have; it hasn’t ended well for us. We know we have a job to do. We’re ranked for a reason,” Switzer says.

If Carolina hopes to climb the rankings as the season progresses, the defensive linemen will need to exceed expectations. With the departure of Kareem Martin to the NFL, the microscope has been placed on the unit.

But according to junior offensive guard Landon Turner’s assessment, the Tar Heels shouldn’t be too worried. Turner lines up against those guys every day and says the defensive linemen have been an absolute handful in practice.

Landon Turner (UNC Athletics)

Landon Turner (UNC Athletics)

Junior linebacker Schoettmer agrees with Turner. He says the model work ethic of the men up front is paying dividends.

“They’re hard working as can be. Everybody feeds off each other. They see one guy working hard and getting success, so they want to do the same,” Schoettmer says.

Schoettmer, who finished with 85 tackles in 2013, is recognizable for his long hair pulled back into a ponytail. But where did the hair style come from?

Schoettmer says it goes back to his freshman year summer, a movie and a bet with a former Tar Heel.

“It started two years ago. Casey Barth, a former kicker, went to a movie with me one summer. We both had buzz cuts probably. We really liked the main character, and he had really long hair. We said 100 dollars to whoever cuts their hair first. I haven’t cut mine since. He has paid me,” Schoettmer says.

Jeff Schoettmer (UNC Athletics)

Jeff Schoettmer (UNC Athletics)

For Switzer, having an unresolved quarterback situation doesn’t matter. In fact, he says most of the time, he doesn’t even recognize who’s behind center in practice sessions.

“They’ve [coaches] made a conscious effort not to talk about. I think that’s helped us. They don’t talk about it in practice. When we’re in seven-on-seven, we’re moving so fast I don’t see who’s at quarterback. Unless I sit there and stare at them, I don’t know who’s in,” Switzer says.

Switzer has the unique vantage point on the starting quarterback battle. He’s Mitch Trubisky’s roommate. Switzer says he’s been impressed with how his friend has handled the competition.

“I think he’s been mature about it. He’s done a lot better than I would. He’s grown up and is just taking it step-by-step. He comes in every day to get better and tries not to focus too much on the competition stuff. I know it’s brought out the best in him, which competition normally does to great competitors,” Switzer says.

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

Regarding the Tar Heels who will be receiving the handoffs from the signal callers, Switzer has pretty lofty praise.

“I see a lot of versatility. They all do one thing really well. If you could put all of them together, you’d get Walter Payton or something. Their talents are amazing,” Switzer says.

The diverse array of talent in the backfield isn’t just catching the eye of Switzer. It promises to catch the eye of opposing defenses this season, starting with the Liberty Flames Saturday.

And with confident, outgoing leaders like Switzer and Schoettmer anchoring both sides of the ball for the Tar Heels, the excitement is only building around Chapel Hill with game day a mere three days away.