2014 CFN Preview - North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina WR Quinshad Davis
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - After years of rebuilding, the Tar Heels have the pieces in place. (Getty Images)
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North Carolina Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer/span>
It's Year 3 for head coach Larry Fedora, so Carolina is naturally hoping to take another step forward.
Head coach: Larry Fedora
3rd year: 13-10
7th year overall: 49-29
Off. 21, Def. 21, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
1. WR Quinshad Davis, Jr.
2. BAN Norkeithus Otis, Sr.
3. WR/PR Ryan Switzer, Soph.
4. QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
5. LB Travis Hughes, Sr.
6. S Tim Scott, Sr.
7. OG Landon Turner, Jr.
8. RB/KR T.J. Logan, Soph.
9. LB Jeff Schoettmer, Jr.
10. P Tommy Hibbard, Sr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Liberty
Sep. 6 San Diego State
Sep. 13 OPEN DATE
Sep. 20 at East Carolina
Sep. 27 at Clemson
Oct. 4 Virginia Tech
Oct. 11 at Notre Dame
Oct. 18 Georgia Tech
Oct. 25 at Virginia
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 Pitt
Nov. 20 at Duke
Nov. 29 NC State
Fedora's unique systems are in place, on both sides of the ball, and he's had a few years to get his kinds of players to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels now believe they're ready to move closer to their goals by competing for—and plucking—a ripe Coastal Division. They'll begin 2014 with a head of steam after winning six of last year's final seven games, capped by a 39-17 Belk Bowl blowout of Cincinnati.
It's been a very busy offseason so far for the program as it jostles with a roster missing its stars on both offense and defense. First Team All-ACC TE Eric Ebron and LT James Hurst are now in the NFL. And fellow all-stars on defense, DE Kareem Martin and FS Tre Boston, are gone as well. Fortunately, Fedora and his staff have recruited well, and 16 of last year's starters are still in school.
The biggest question on offense focuses on the quarterbacks. Yeah, the Heels have good options, but will Marquise Williams get an opportunity to build on last season's solid finish? Or is Fedora ready to hand the ball to blue-chip redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky? The veteran may have the edge, but the rookie isn't backing down an inch, setting the stage for a fascinating competition in the summer. Whoever gets the nod will be working behind a line that's going to sorely miss Hurst and C Russell Bodine.
After bottoming out with a 55-31 loss to East Carolina last Sept. 28, Carolina's defense got steadily better as the season progressed. The unit wants to build on the strong finish, but doing so will require a rebuilt D-line to grow up in a hurry. Not only is Martin out of the picture, but so is veteran DT Tim Jackson. Someone other than frenetic Bandit Norkeithus Otis will have to offset the 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks that Martin produced in 2013.
Carolina likes where it's headed under Fedora. The NCAA—for now—is no longer sniffing around. And the 2013 squad capped a torrid second-half with its first bowl win in three years. The Tar Heels are eyeing continued progress in 2014, with a first-ever appearance in the ACC Championship Game looming large on the Tar Heel to-do list.
What to watch for on offense: A very deep backfield. Quarterback isn't the only crowded position on offense. A year ago, Carolina was trying to figure out who'd replace Gio Bernard. This summer, it needs to determine how to distribute touches. Sophomore T.J. Logan has the inside track on the starting job. But junior Romar Morris and sophomore Khris Francis are in the picture as well. Oh, and do not forget about blue-chip recruit Elijah Hood, who enrolled in January. The staff hasn't. The up-tempo offense requires a lot of bodies, and the Heels have them at running back.
What to watch for on defense: Youth at cornerback. The Tar Heels will be young at corner this season, but that's not such a bad thing. The team is bullish about the futures of sophomores Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence, both of whom are expected to start after lettering in 2013. The emergence of the underclassmen is allowing Carolina to shift its best defensive back, senior Tim Scott, to free safety to get the school's four best DBs on the field at the same time. The Heels came on very strong in pass defense last year after a rocky September.
The team will be far better if … it runs the ball—and stops the run—better in 2013. A year ago, the Tar Heels ranked No. 11 in ACC rushing and last in rush defense. Neither standing is acceptable in Chapel Hill. Sure, Carolina thrives on its speed and finesse, but overall progress won't be achieved if the team doesn't improve at the point of attack. It's going to be a tall order in 2014, since its best offensive and defensive linemen from last season are now in the NFL.
The Schedule: It's dangerous early, not bad late, and without a ton of home games. Granted, there isn't a lot of travelling with road dates at East Carolina and Duke both in-state, but there's a stretch of five road games in seven weeks after starting out the year at home against Liberty and San Diego State. Going on the road to face Clemson stinks, but at least the Tar Heels miss Florida State. With Miami on the road, there will be stests, but the Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech games are in Chapel Hill. The big problem overall, though, could be inability to get into a groove without any back-to-back home games after September 6th.
Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Quinshad Davis. With seam-busting TE Eric Ebron off to the NFL, the Heels are expecting even more from Davis, their best wide receiver of the past two seasons. The 6-4, 205-pounder has already caught 109 passes in his career, beating defenders with his size, speed and improving fundamentals. And the best is yet to come for Davis, promising news for both the Carolina quarterbacks and the rest of the team's receivers. When Davis is stretching the D, it becomes much harder to contain T.J. Thorpe, Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer from the slot.
Best Defensive Player: Senior Bandit Norkeithus Otis. The Tar Heels needed a jolt of energy in the pass rush last season. Otis supplied it from Bandit, a jack-of-all trades position that requires myriad different skills. He's an explosive all-around athlete, with a knack for disrupting opposing passing games by collapsing the pocket and neutralizing tight ends in coverage. Otis has the talent, and now the experience, to rank among the ACC's most prolific sackers in 2014.
Key players to a successful season: The offensive line, but specifically the new left tackle and center. The Tar Heels want to keep the momentum cranking on offense. They'll be fine at the skill positions, but James Hurst and Russell Bodine leave gaping holes at left tackle and center, respectively. Early enrollee Bentley Spain, a four-star recruit, has gotten a head start on the left tackle opening. Sophomore Lucas Crowley would be Carolina's fourth underclassmen in the lineup if he wins the center job.
The season will be a success if ... the Tar Heels win the Coastal Division. Carolina wants to raise the bar a little higher in 2014, which requires a spot in the ACC title game. And why not? The Coastal is wide-open, with Duke beginning the year as an improbable reigning champ. The Heels have as much talent, and as good a quarterback situation, as anyone in the weaker half of the ACC. It's Year 3 under Larry Fedora and it's time to reach new heights in Chapel Hill.
Key game: Nov. 20 at Duke. It's the battle for the Victory Bell … with a twist. The Blue Devils have won two straight for the first time since Steve Spurrier was in Durham a quarter-century ago. And last year's Tar Heel defeat was a crushing one that sent Duke to the ACC Championship Game. Carolina will be seeking revenge at Wallace Wade Stadium, as well as an important edge in the race to capture this year's Coastal Division crown.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: North Carolina 148.3 – Opponents 182.5
- Special teams touchdowns: North Carolina 7 – Opponents 1
- Sacks: North Carolina 31 - Opponents 21
2014 North Carolina Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer/span>