2012 Program Preview - North Carolina

UNC RB Giovani Bernard had an impressive freshman season, rushing for more than 1,250 yards and 13 TDs. Is he a candidate for a sophomore slump?

I'm about done trying to understand UNC football. Two years ago, when the Tar Heels lost to NC State five months before having nine players drafted in the NFL Draft (including four in the first two rounds) I was confused. I was confused as to how a team with so much talent beyond their opponents, individually, wasn't more dominant.

To be fair, Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Greg Little were all suspended or kicked off the team, so that game didn't feature three of those top two round draftees. Nevertheless, that shouldn't have happened. UNC outgained NC State by 129 yards, despite only getting 46 yards on 18 carries from their two RBs. TJ Yates threw for 411 yards and two TDs with out an interception. It wasn't supposed to go down like that.

Last year, I went from confusion to outright abandonment when UNC lost to the Wolfpack 13-0. I thought ESPNU was playing a trick on all of us, some kind of retribution for nobody receiving the Longhorn Network and nobody caring. It wasn't, and now I'm willing to give up.

At this point, I fully expect UNC to go 3-9 and have 28 players drafted in the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. That would make sense.

After the jump, the prospects worth noting as well as some games and matchups to pencil into your calendar.

References

Carolina March (SBN North Carolina community), SB Nation team page, official team site, Dane Brugler's preview for CBS Sports

Notable offensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Jonathan Cooper
G
RS Sr.
1
Erik Highsmith
WR
Sr.
4
Travis Bond G
Sr.
7
Jheranie Boyd
OT
Sr.
UD
Brennan Williams WR
Sr.
UD
Bryn Renner
QB
RS Jr.
6
James Hurst
OT
Jr.
7
Giovani Bernard
RB
RS Soph.
3

Notable defensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Kevin Reddick ILB
Sr.
2
Sylvester Williams
DT
Sr.
3
Kareem Martin
DE
Jr.
3
Tre Boston
CB
Jr.
5
Darius Lipford
OLB
Jr.
7
Tim Scott
CB
Soph.
N/A

Summary

With so many talented sophomores and freshman in tow, this is definitely an incomplete list. Their 2011 class was VERY strong; both Rivals and Scouts had them as the 16th best class nationally. So perhaps we'll see some of those names emerge that didn't see much playing time if any in 2011.

With Larry Fedora taking over at head coach for Butch Davis (and interim HC Everett Withers), UNC is hoping to match the success they've had in producing NFL players, and some pretty good ones at that, on the field.

Key games

Louisville (away) - Week 3 (Sat., Sept. 15 - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Assuming UNC gets a win at Wake Forest after a warm-up against Elon, this will be a huge early test. A second consecutive road game, the Louisville contest preceds a three-game homestand for UNC that ends with Virginia Tech. Getting to that game 5-0 would be a very impressive accomplishment, but it likely hinges on this one.

North Carolina St. (home) - Week 9 (Sat., Oct. 27 - TBD)

Yup.

Key matchups

QB Bryn Renner v. Va. Tech CBs Kyle Fuller & Antone Exum, Week 6 - Sat., Oct. 6

If UNC is going to have the most miniscule of chances, Brenner has to be damn near perfect. As in nearly James Madison perfect. That means being aware of both corners (Exum recently moved to CB from safety) every single passing down. The two helped limited Clemson WR Sammy Watkins to his least productive game last year, so it won't be an easy task.

G Jon Cooper & RB Giovani Bernard v. Duke DT Sydney Sarmiento, Week 8 - Sat., Oct. 20

Duke's not the automatic W they have been in years past; they only lost to Wake Forest by one and Va. Tech by four last year. This is a game that will likely hinge on UNC's ability to stop the Blue Devils' passing attack, and wear them down with the running game when they have the ball.

With the Cooper-Bernard connection, that's not an overly difficult task. Cooper moves well in space (he's the one leading that screen), and can open things up through the middle. Bernard had an impressive freshman year, and will have added expectations placed on his shoulder.

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