CFN Preview 2013 - North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner
Posted May 9, 2013 2013 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Larry Fedora
Second year: 8-4
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best UNC Players
1. QB Bryn Renner, Sr.
2. OT James Hurst, Sr.
3. FS Tre Boston, Sr.
4. DE Kareem Martin, Sr.
5. WR Quinshad Davis, Soph.
6. CB Tim Scott, Jr.
7. TE Eric Ebron, Jr.
8. RB A.J. Blue, Sr.
9. C Russell Bodine, Jr.
10. CB Jabari Price, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/29 at South Carolina
9/7 Middle Tennessee
9/21 at Georgia Tech
9/28 East Carolina
10/5 at Virginia Tech
10/17 Miami
10/26 Boston College
11/2 at NC State
11/9 Virginia
11/16 at Pitt
11/23 Old Dominion
11/30 Duke
Carolina is one step closer to being whole again.

The Tar Heels won't be completely out of the NCAA woods for another couple of years, but they survived 2012, a challenging and transitional year marked by a postseason ban during the first season of Larry Fedora's tenure in Chapel Hill. The program went 8-4, scored a lot of points and was as good as any other Coastal Division squad. Yet, unlike 70 other FBS teams, it was not a part of the postseason, a dynamic likely to change in 2013.

North Carolina will be bowl-eligible and ACC title-eligible this fall, which can only hasten Fedora's blueprint for success at the university. The coach was modestly successful in his debut. On the one hand, his spread offense produced more than 40 points a game, setting school records along the way. On the other, the defense was a disappointment, allowing at least 28 points seven times. It's a work in progress, but one that clearly appears headed in the right direction.

Carolina's pursuit of success will again be driven by the play of the offense. There are gaps to be filled, but Bryn Renner is a next-level quarterback, and his supporting cast offers hope. Left tackle James Hurst protects the blindside, WR Quinshad Davis is a star-in-the-making and the backfield tandem of A.J. Blue and Romar Morris has a very high ceiling. The Heels will be potent in Year 2 of the up-tempo system, but …

… will the defense squander big leads in the fall? Carolina has talent. Carolina always has talent. However, the 2013 edition also has holes in the front six, with the graduations of DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick. The strength of the unit lies in the secondary, meaning it won't be easy throwing on the Heels. Picking up yards on the ground, though, might be quite a bit more manageable. The fact that Carolina remains an incomplete team is most evident on this side of the ball.

The clouds are beginning to lift around Chapel Hill. Brighter days are unequivocally ahead now that Carolina has endured its darkest days following the missteps of a prior coaching regime. Fedora is energized, as are his staff and his players. The Tar Heels are trending north, aided by the lure of a postseason now rich with opportunities and advancement.

What to watch for on offense: From Gio to duo. RB Giovani Bernard was an outstanding all-around talent for the Heels, and his absence will be felt. However, shed no tears for the Carolina ground game. The Heels will move from a feature back in 2013 to a little more of a committee approach. In bruising A.J. Blue and electrifying Romar Morris, the offense is going to hit ACC defenses with the kind of one-two punch that they haven't seen in the past. Carolina will be just fine in the running game, even if the backfield fails to produce a bona fide star this fall.

What to watch for on defense: The mid-section will be soft. The secondary might be outstanding, and the pass rush has DE Kareem Martin on one side. It's in the heart of the D that Carolina will labor now that its best tackle and best linebacker are playing on Sundays. The Heels do have depth at tackle, aided by the shift inside of former end Tim Jackson, and LB Travis Hughes has been sharp in practice at weakside. Still, opponents committing to the run versus Carolina will find that running lanes remain open longer than they did in 2012.

The team will be far better if … the defense is surprisingly stingy. Few teams even slowed down the Carolina offense last season, especially during a stretch run when everything was clicking. No, when the Heels struggled, it was because of the play of the defense, which reached rock bottom in a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech. A little light on elite defenders entering 2013, the program will need the kind of collaborative effort that educes markedly sharper play from every unit of the defense.

The Schedule: The Tar Heels will know where they stand on a national scale right out of the box with a fun non-conference test against South Carolina. Fortunately, there's Middle Tennessee and a week off to prepare for the big ACC division opener aginst Georgia Tech, and they'll need the W with the next conference game at Virginia Tech. 1-1 keeps UNC alive for the ACC title, 0-2 in the division ends it, and 2-0 makes it driver's seat time. Another open date before Miami is nice, while the road game at NC State should be the last hurdle for a slightly soft second half of the season. Missing Clemson and Florida State form the Atlantic - playing Boston College and NC State - is a major bonus.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Bryn Renner. When Carolina signed Renner, he was hailed as one of the most heralded recruits in program history. The senior has not disappointed over the past couple of years. The smart and accurate distributor is about to use his final amateur year as a launching pad to the 2014 NFL Draft. Renner was terrific in his first season with head coach Larry Fedora, completing 276-of-422 passes for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He'll be even more efficient in his second year in the system.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Tre Boston. Boston ticks off all of the requirements that Carolina has for its free safeties, from covering the pass to laying the wood in run defense. He flirted with the idea of leaving early for the 2013 NFL Draft, wisely deciding instead to hone his craft in Chapel Hill for one more year. The 6-1, 205-pounder ought to get the All-ACC recognition he deserves after posting team-high with 86 tackles and four interceptions a season ago.

Key player to a successful season: ‘Bandit' Norkeithus Otis. The Heels have issues on defense that won't be resolved by a single player. However, it's funny sometimes how a flurry of pressure can gloss over the shortcomings on this side of the ball. Carolina is set on one flank with DE Kareem Martin, who'll challenge FS Tre Boston as the team's best defensive player. At ‘Bandit', though, a position designed to create heat, the line is hoping that Otis can be far more disruptive than predecessor Dion Guy was in 2012.

The season will be a success if ... the Tar Heels do no worse than last year's 8-4 mark. Obviously, eight wins this season means an additional game in December. It'll also mean that North Carolina is cruising in the right direction, maintaining its level of play despite losing five players to the 2013 NFL Draft. The Tar Heels might need to rally in November after opening with road trips to South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in their first five games.

Key game: Aug. 29 at South Carolina. No, the Tar Heels don't have to upset the Gamecocks in the opener in order for this trip to Columbia to be deemed a success, but it sure does drip with opportunity. Carolina gets a primetime chance to showcase its progress under Fedora, facing Steve Spurrier and one of the SEC's top teams. If the visitors can hang with their hosts from a bordering state, it could provide a confidence boost that lasts a very long time in Chapel Hill.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: North Carolina 40.6 – Opponents 25.7
- Yards per play: North Carolina 6.5 – Opponents 5.2
- Sacks: North Carolina 29 - Opponents 11 

- 2013 North Carolina Preview | 2013 North Carolina Offense
- 2013 North Carolina Defense | 2013 North Carolina Depth Chart