2011 North Carolina Preview
North Carolina DE Quinton Coples
North Carolina DE Quinton Coples
Posted Jul 27, 2011

2010 was supposed to be a special year for North Carolina football. Instead, suspensions and scandals dominated the season that turned out to be good, but not great. Has the talent level dropped off? Can the program get past the controversies? Will the NCAA investigation be a problem? Check out the 2011 CFN Tar Heel Preview.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: TBA
Returning Lettermen
Off. 16, Def. 23, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best North Carolina Players
1. DE Quinton Coples, Sr.
2. OG Jonathan Cooper, Jr.
3. LB Kevin Reddick, Jr.
4. DT Tydreke Powell, Sr.
5. WR Dwight Jones, Sr.
6. LB Zach Brown, Sr.
7. PK Casey Barth, Sr.
8. DE Donte Paige-Moss, Jr.
9. CB Charles Brown, Sr.
10. RB Ryan Houston, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sept. 3 James Madison
Sept. 10 Rutgers
Sept. 17 Virginia
Sept. 24 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 1 at East Carolina
Oct. 8 Louisville
Oct. 15 Miami
Oct. 22 at Clemson
Oct. 29 Wake Forest
Nov. 5 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 26 Duke

While one swath of the storm has passed, dark clouds still hover over Chapel Hill. And now, after the firing of head coach Butch Davis, there's even more uncertainty than ever.

Carolina survived last season's tumultuous, scandal-ridden campaign better than expected. Sans a handful of suspended stars, the Tar Heels still managed to cap an 8-5 season with a bowl victory over Tennessee. It was a study in perseverance and focus, from coaches to players. However, off-field distractions loom once again as the NCAA conducts its investigation into the program and Davis' coaching staff. The final verdict may not come down until October meaning the players will have more than Xs and Os to contend with when camp opens.

On the field, it's hard to argue with the level of talent this staff has been able to accumulate in recent years. Prior to the chaos that ensued last August, the Tar Heels, which had a school-record nine student-athletes drafted in April, were considered one of the favorites to win the ACC. Carolina has enough blue-chip players to be a perennial contender in the conference, but needs to actually break through and disprove the stigma of being just a basketball school.

The Heels figure to be stout once again on defense. Since most of the suspensions occurred on that side of the ball, it forced the program to develop young players a year earlier than expected. Plus, there's a new batch of NFL-ready defenders, such as DE Quinton Coples and LB Kevin Reddick, posing for scouts.

As has often been the case, Carolina's fate will rest with the offense. In particular, the backfield is getting a facelift. Former hot-shot recruit Bryn Renner replaces veteran T.J. Yates behind center, and Ryan Houston is out to prove he's more than just a situational runner after sitting out all of 2010.

Still in the eye of an NCAA storm, North Carolina will once again attempt to keep its own eyes on the ball and away from suggestive headlines. The talent is in place for this program to contend in the Coastal Division. Even though all of the news is no longer being made on the practice field, the team is still good enough to win the ACC. Davis is leaving a stocked shelf.

What to watch for on offense: Houston, we have a feature back? Hulking senior Ryan Houston was cleared in the NCAA investigation last October, but decided to redshirt and get a fresh start in 2011. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, he's a load in short yardage, scoring 18 career touchdowns, but can he handle the role of every-down runner and keep the chains moving? The Tar Heels are cautiously optimistic he'll be an answer in the running game after norming just 3.7 yards a carry and losing last season's top three rushers.

What to watch for on defense: The front seven to dominate. Even after having four linemen and linebackers drafted, including three in the first 52 picks, Carolina remains flush with elite talent along the front seven. There's a preponderance of size, quickness, and Tar Heels who are going to play on Sundays. DE Quinton Coples, DT Tydreke Powell, and LB Zach Brown are already considered hot senior prospects, and a couple of juniors, LB Kevin Reddick and DE Donte Paige-Moss, will have tough decisions about their future once the season ends. As hard as it is to fathom, the front line of the D will be as feisty as it's been in recent years.

The team will be far better if … it trades a few Casey Barth field goal attempts for touchdowns. Success this year hinges on the play of an offense that lacks efficiency and loses the heart of its backfield. The defense will be fine, but needs more help from the boys on the other side of the ball. The Tar Heels converted only 56% of last year's red zone trips into touchdowns, ranking 88th nationally in the category.

The Schedule: The Tar Heels should be 6-0 to start the season if they can figure out Georgia Tech in the ACC road showdown and if they can keep up with the East Carolina offense. And then the fun really begins with what might be a make-or-break showdown against Miami before dealing with the Atlantic portion on the slate with at Clemson, Wake Forest, and at NC State. The Virginia Tech game is on the road, but there's a week off to prepare.

Best Offensive Player: Junior LG Jonathan Cooper. As Carolina regroups in the backfield, it'll look to a lineman as one of its steadiest performers. The wide receivers are a group on the rise, especially senior Dwight Jones, but some kinks still need to be worked out. Cooper is a blocker on the rise, landing on the 2010 All-ACC Second Team. A powerful and heady guard, his strength and agility allow him to handle his man at the point of attack or at the second level of the defense.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Quinton Coples. When a suspension robbed the Heels of its best pass rusher, Robert Quinn, Coples filled the void swimmingly throughout 2010. A hidden gem on the roster before last fall, the 6-6, 285-pounder erupted for 59 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, and 8.5 sacks. Able to defend the run and collapse the pocket regularly with equal ferocity, he'll begin the 2011 season as one of the hottest defensive prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Bryn Renner. Recruited out of Virginia three years ago for this very moment, Renner gets his first opportunity to be the leader of the Carolina offense. Blessed with all of the tools for success, sans practical experience, the program is hoping it has its most consistent passer in years. Too talented, even at this stage of his career, to be considered just a game manager, the coaching staff wants him to exploit all of the tools of an up-and-coming receiving corps.

The season will be a success if ... the Tar Heels win nine games and put the NCAA scandal to bed. On the field, Carolina has the right schedule and mix of talent to better last season's record. It leaves the state just three times all year, once in September, October, and November. And the defense is going to keep the team in every game. Away from the field, fingers are crossed around Chapel Hill in the hopes that the program gets spared by the NCAA, without the level of chaos it endured last fall.

Key game: Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech. The late-season trip to Blacksburg has the look of a tipping-point game for the Tar Heels. Although a loss won't be unexpected—or disastrous—a win could put Carolina in contention for a Coastal Division title. By this time of year, the program should also have a firm grip on the quarterback situation, and how much it can heap on first-time starter Bryn Renner.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards: North Carolina 1,634 – Opponents 1,633
- Yards per pass: North Carolina 8.1 – Opponents 6.4
- Total offense: North Carolina 5,066 - Opponents 4,401

- 2011 North Carolina Preview | 2011 North Carolina Offense
- 2011 North Carolina Defense | 2011 North Carolina Depth Chart
- North Carolina Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006