Larry Fedora has alluded to it several times already. Yes, the Tar heels have high-profile skilled players, but it’s what’s up front that counts. And, right now, there is not much up front with any experience.
A household name on the “O” or “D” line? Maybe you know of Landon Turner, a 6-4 junior offensive guard who has some playing time under the belt that supports his 315 pounds. You hear the name Justin Thomason, a 6-4 junior defensive tackle who has what they call a lot of upside.
But Quinton Coples, Jonathan Cooper, Sylvester Williams, Russell Bodine – look for them on Sunday afternoons, not Saturdays. Except that it’s not a Carolina color, Fedora would have every right to send out his team wearing green jerseys. That is how young they are in the trenches.
And you don’t want quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky or fleet running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood getting swarmed before they get started. Likewise for the linebackers and safeties leading the team in tackles. Those are not good signs.
So the ACC Coastal Division is a mess for good reason. Duke got the most first place votes (33) but is picked to finish second. Carolina got the second-most first place votes (27) but is picked fourth. Miami is the favorite, but the Hurricanes don’t have a quarterback with any experience or any eligibility for the first few games because of various failed drug tests.
Please don’t let it come down to old reliables Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, who before Duke sneaked in a year ago were the only Coastal Division reps to play in the eight previous ACC Championship games. The Blue Devils, by the way, made it three straight and five out of nine Coastal losses in the title tilt.
Realistically, it could be any of six Coastal teams making it to Charlotte, the only exception being Virginia which is the worst of an average division. The Tar Heels have the ability to roll up hundreds of total yards and dozens of points each game, but they also gave up more than 100 combined points to Georgia Tech and East Carolina over the last two seasons.
This dearth of depth has everything to do with the three-year NCAA probation UNC received from the Butch Davis era. And while the Tar Heels can now sign a full allotment of 25 scholarship players moving forward, the penalty period is far from over. Fedora can land the best recruiting classes in the ACC over the next two years, but most of those kids won’t be ready to contribute until their second (or third) seasons. So the collateral damage from the three-year probation really lasts four or five.
And UNC still has to get rid of the stench from the ongoing academic scandal.
The fact that Fedora is the first UNC football coach since the 1930s to have winning records in his first two seasons says a lot about the choice that Bubba Cunningham made when he arrived as athletic director. Of course, keeping the funny, unflappable Fedora will be Carolina’s challenge if the Tar Heels keep winning and schools with an eye on The Hat (like Florida) keep losing.
Ironically, UNC losing five of their first six games in 2013 before finishing 6-1 actually dropped Fedora down the list of some athletic directors looking for a new coach. It’s now become the ultimate irony. We want the Tar Heels to win big, but another 7- or 8 –win season will go a long way toward Fedora staying in his Southern Village home for at least another year.
The UNC coaching staff – which has about a half-dozen new faces, thanks mainly to Blake Anderson’s departure to Arkansas State – is energetic and optimistic about getting the green jerseys off the kids who haven’t played much. They know they have money players to protect on offense and embarrassing numbers to forget on defense.
At least game program sales will be up for the first two home weekends against Liberty and San Diego State. Numerical rosters will be an essential for most fans coming to Kenan.
Hopefully, a bunch of “Who’s He” questions will turn into household names pretty quickly.