North Carolina ended the Butch Davis and Co. era last night with a 41-24 loss to Missouri that wasn't that close. The program now turns to recruiting under new coach Larry Fedora, who came to Chapel Hill by way of a Conference USA title at Southern Miss.
It won't be that difficult for Fedora to be a better coach than Butch Davis. But it will be almost impossible for Fedora to be a better talent evaluator than Davis. Quite simply, Davis is regarded as the top talent evaluator in the game. And I'm not talking about finding a kid with no offers and turning him into a starter. No, I'm talking about "finding" a three-star player and having the vision to see him becoming an All-American at another position.
That's not to say that Davis didn't win for top kids. He did. Often.
Ends like Quinton Coples, Donte Moss, and Robert Quinn weren't diamonds in the rough. Davis had to beat out almost every major program in the South for their commitments. The same goes for defensive tackles Marvin Austin, Jared McAdoo, and Tydreke Powell or receivers Dwight Jones and Greg Little and Jheranie Boyd and Joshua Adams.
In Davis' five years in Chapel Hill, he hauled in 38 four-star or better recruits. And UNC developed the kids pretty well, including a record nine draft choices last year.
But for all that talent, Davis never had the best team in the ACC. Heck, it's arguable that he never even had the best team in the Coastal Division. The record would back up that assessment.
So while Fedora likely won't recruit like Davis did, he may be able to duplicate or exceed Davis' on-field success simply by recruiting decently and coaching better. Fedora needs to be his own coach.
What do we know about Larry Fedora as a recruiter? A little.
Fedora's teams at Southern Mississippi were routinely one of the better teams in Conference USA. He landed five-star receiver Deandre Brown in 2009, and had a few decent classes, relative to the resources of Southern Miss.
North Carolina's resources aren't as superior to the rest of the ACC as Southern Miss' are to the rest of Conference USA. But the Tar Heels aren't exactly lacking, either. With the expansion of the Blue Zone, North Carolina now has some of the better facilities in the ACC.
In state, the Heels have the best football facilities by far. Duke doesn't take football seriously, and even if N.C. State did want to play football on the highest level, they lack the resources to do so on a consistent basis. Carolina should rarely lose top prospects to other in-state teams.
And Carolina really shouldn't struggle to be one of the better recruiting teams in the conference. Behind Florida State and Clemson, the number three spot in the recruiting game is very much up for grabs.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels and the rest of the ACC, beating other ACC teams for elite players is only half the battle. Remember that the ACC shares its geographical recruiting grounds with another conference -- the SEC. Schools like Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and even Florida routinely take the top talent out of the state.
And this year, Carolina has already lost out on seven of the top 10 in-state prospects, and aren't considered likely destinations for the other two:
D.J. Humphries (UF), Jonathan Bullard (Clem/UF), Keith Marshall (UGA), Germone Hopper (Clem), Carlos Watkins (Clem), Nick Dawson (uncommitted), Brock Stadnik (USCe), Jody Fuller (USCe), J.J. Patterson (UNC Commitment) and Todd Gurley (uncommitted).
With 18 commitments and just a single four-star recruit, this UNC class is nothing close to what Davis had been bringing in. And why should it be? UNC played the entire year with what amounted to an interim coach.
The best of the bunch of J.J. Patterson, a four-star offensive lineman from in state. And with four commitments, offensive line is probably the best group as well. John Heck is an underrated lineman out of Jacksonville who committed early and stuck with UNC throughout the season.
Defensively, UNC has done a decent job at linebacker, with players such as Shakeel Rashad, Joseph Jackson and Dan Mastromatteo.
Quarterback Patton Robinette is also a promising player. He's extremely smart off the field as well, and had offers from many of the Ivy League schools.
Fedora hasn't had time to establish relationships with prospects, but that is not his fault, as UNC hired him right before the "dead period."
When the dead period does lift, Carolina will need to address the defensive tackle position. The Tar Heels brought in three defensive tackles last season, but only two of them were high school recruits. And UNC currently has zero commitments from defensive tackles.
Singing two high school defensive tackles in as many years is a recipe for trouble down the road. 4-3 defenses generally want to carry a minimum of eight defensive tackles. Carolina may be able to remedy this with JUCO players, but relying on junior college stop-gaps is never a great strategy.
This is a bit of a throwaway year for Fedora. There is still plenty of talent on this roster left over from the Davis years. If Fedora can grab a surprise commit before signing day and coach the considerable talent to a nice year on the field (possible with no FSU or Clemson on the schedule from the Atlantic Division), he should be well on his way to landing a nice class for the 2012-2013 cycle next February.
For more on North Carolina, check out Carolina March.