2007 North Carolina Preview

Posted Apr 25, 2007

Can North Carolina football become half as good as the basketball program? Step one was getting a coach like Butch Davis, but even with several great players like LB Durell Mapp, it's going to take a while with all the young prospects needing time.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2007

By Michael Bradley & Pete Fiutak

- 2007 UNC Offense Preview | 2007 UNC Defense Preview
2007 UNC Depth Chart | 2006 CFN UNC Preview 

There’s been so much euphoria surrounding the North Carolina these past few months, it seems like it’s become a football school.

The hiring of Butch Davis, the man who led Miami back from the abyss, generated tremendous enthusiasm among long-suffering Tar Heel fans who had to endure the ups (few) and downs (many) of the Carl Torbush and John Bunting eras, all while watching former coaching hero Mack Brown lead Texas to the top of the college world.

Head coach: Butch Davis
1st year at UNC
7th year overall: 51-20
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 24, ST 16
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Tar Heel Players
1. WR Hakeem Nicks, Soph.
2. LB Durell Mapp, Sr.
3. PK Connor Barth, Sr.
4. FS Trimaine Goddard, Jr.
5. DE Hilee Taylor, Sr.
6. CB Jermaine Strong, Soph.
7. PR/KR/WR Brandon Tate, Jr.
8. OT Garrett Reynolds. Jr.
9. DT Marvin Austin, Fr.
10. QB Mike Paulus, Fr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 3-9

Sept. 1

James Madison

Sept. 8

at East Carolina

Sept. 15


Sept. 22

at South Florida

Sept. 29

at Virginia Tech

Oct. 6


Oct. 13

South Carolina

Oct. 27

at Wake Forest

Nov. 3


Nov. 10

at NC State

Nov. 17

at Georgia Tech

Nov. 24


2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

2005 Record:
Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/2 Rutgers L 21-16
9/9 Virginia Tech L 35-10
9/16 Furman W 45-42
9/23 at Clemson L 52-7
10/7 at Miami L 27-7
10/14 South Florida L 37-20
10/19 at Virginia L 23-0
10/28 Wake Forest L 24-17
11/4 at Notre Dame L 45-26
11/11 Georgia Tech L 7-0
11/18 NC State W 23-9
11/25 at Duke W 45-44

Davis’ decision to leave the comfort of the NFL Network studios for another chance at the I-A game was big news. The choice of Chapel Hill as his landing spot was even bigger, considering it was rumored he only wanted to coach where he had an opportunity to win it all. Well, Davis must have seen something at the basketball-mad place, otherwise he would’ve hung around and waited for something like Alabama to open up. By signing on so early in the process, Davis was able to hit the recruiting trail hard and quickly, generating even more excitement among the UNC community with a tremendous first class.

When it came time for prospects to sign, Davis looked like a magician. He had players de-commit from Texas, held onto the top incoming prospects, despite last-ditch pitches from USC, Florida and Notre Dame, and opened up everyone’s eyes across the ACC. Quarterback Mike Paulus, who committed last spring, stayed true, despite the hard sell from Trojan boss Pete Carroll. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, thought by many to be the best defender in the country, signed on despite Florida State’s best efforts. Clearly, these young men had paid attention when Davis talked about the 28 first-round draft choices he had recruited while at Miami.

Now comes the reality check. With 11 starters leaving from last year’s 3-9 team, the Heels have a long way to go before they can start thinking about replicating Davis’ success with the Hurricanes, whether on the field or on draft day. In a crowded ACC, where many teams are vying for the middle ground and new candidates emerge for the top spots each year, UNC has a long way to climb if it wants to be competitive, much less a force. Davis spoke on signing day of a class of recruits that was charismatic, along with fast and multi-talented. He’s counting on that personality to help transform a program that had lost its swagger, but it won’t happen right away. True, this class does have a lot of prime prospects, but they can’t all be expected to become standouts immediately, and what’s coming back isn’t too sturdy.

North Carolina will improve under Davis. It may even win enough games to sneak into a bowl game. But all of the happiness generated by Davis’ arrival and the signing-day bonanza must be tempered by the real-life lessons that will be administered to the Tar Heel youngsters by the ACC’s better teams over the next couple years. Carolina is on the right track, but there‘s traffic in front of it and plenty of ground to make up.

What to look for on offense: Neither returning quarterback – Joe Dailey (who’s moving to receiver) or Cam Sexton – was impressive last year, so Paulus may get the chance to shine right away unless T.J. Yates continues to shine like he did at the end of spring ball. Whoever plays under center will get help from strong young wideouts Hakeem Hicks and Brooks Foster, but the ground game needs a big-time upgrade hoping that a slew of untested players, led by Richie Rich and Anthony Elzy, can improve upon last year’s poor numbers. Look for three and four-wide sets to be the norm and a far more sophisticated passing attack.

What to look for on defense
: Davis will most certainly bring a change for the better. Only four starters return, but there’s a ton of young talent to get excited about. However, there’s no proven depth and too many wide open positions going into the fall. UNC was pushed around last year. That will end in ’07 with a more aggressive, attacking style that’ll mean more risks and more mistakes, but bigger overall rewards.

The team will be much better if… somebody emerges as a true running back. The quarterbacks will improve thanks to experience and better coaching, but they’ll be under siege all season if Rich, Elzy, or freshman Ryan Houston don’t combine to get things moving. It’ll also help if the line doesn’t start getting more of a shove.
The Schedule: It's as good a schedule as Davis could reasonably ask for, starting with three games (James Madison, at East Carolina and Virginia) that are all winnable. The second half of the year isn't bad, helped by the yearly tussle with Duke to close things out. Of special note will be a home date on October 6, when Davis welcomes in his old program, Miami.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore WR Hakeem Nicks.  Despite getting little help from his quarterbacks, Nicks debuted surprisingly well setting a Tar Heel freshman record with 39 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns.  He uses his 6-1, 210-pound frame to gain position and bounce off tacklers to go along with the straight-line speed to get behind a secondary.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Durell Mapp. This could change very, very quickly as some of the true freshmen, led by Marvin Austin, have more raw talent than anyone else on the defense. Mapp doesn’t make enough plays against the pass for a weakside linebacker and he could stand to be better against the run, but he’s a good tackler and the leader of the defensive front.

Key player to a successful season: Junior S Trimane Goddard.  Oh sure, the quarterback situation will undergo the most scrutiny, but T.J. Yates, Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton will turn out to be fine. For UNC to start winning, it needs the defense to be up to Davis snuff, and that starts with the return of Goddard. When he broke his foot last August, the Tar Heel secondary lost one of its rising stars, a punishing strong safety with the ball skills and speed of a corner.  Healthy again, he’s primed to give a much-needed boost to a Carolina defense that had just two picks through the first ten games of last year.

The season will be a success if ... the Tar Heels flirt with a winning record. If Butch Davis can work his magic early and combine all the young players with the mediocre veterans, there are enough good match-ups to reasonably shoot for seven wins. Battling teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami, or coming up with a win or two against those big three, would be a huge step.

Key game: Sept. 15 vs. Virginia. The Tar Heels got pasted 23-0 by the Cavaliers last year, and could show in the ACC opener that things have changed quickly in the new era. With road trips to South Florida and Virginia Tech over the following two weeks, and with Miami, South Carolina and at Wake Forest to follow, this could be a must win to avoid a disastrous start.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Second quarter scoring: Opponents 114; North Carolina 46
- Rushing touchdowns: Opponents 29; North Carolina 12
- Third down conversions: Opponents 66 for 153 (43%); North Carolina 53 of 155 (34%)


Related Stories
2007 North Carolina Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007
2007 North Carolina Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007
2007 North Carolina Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007

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