Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Butch Davis succeeded (sort of)
In 2007, Butch Davis was hired to restore pride for a program that didn't have much. Always a basketball-first school, UNC had still experienced solid recent success, first with four straight top-20 appearances under Dick Crum in the early-1980s, then with a 21-3 run and two top-10 finishes under Mack Brown in the mid-1990s. When Brown left for Texas, however, things went south quickly. Carl Torbush won seven games in his first post-Mack season, then won nine in his next two. John Bunting took over, went 8-5 in his first year, then never again finished above .500. Bunting's final team, in 2006, was plain awful, going 3-9 and placing 93rd in the F/+ rankings.
UNC had won just 19 games in the five years before Davis arrived and went just 4-8 in his first season. But in the last five years, the Tar Heels have won 39 games and have generated five straight top-50 appearances in the F/+ rankings. They won at Florida State in 2010 and seven of their final nine and tied for the division lead in 2012. My friend Paul Myerberg opened his UNC preview by saying, "Don't look now, but we're entering an exciting age of North Carolina football." I'm not sure if I can go that far, but things certainly look better in Larry Fedora's second year than they did in Davis'.
So ... the Davis era, while over, was kind of a success then, right? He was hired to turn the program, and he did, and now his replacement, Larry Fedora, has people truly optimistic about the team's near and distant future.
Oh yeah, and the Davis era also produced vacated wins, scholarship reductions, a postseason ban, and probation following a series of violations encompassing academic transgressions, agent benefits, and ineligible players.
This is in no way a black-and-white world, no matter how badly we want that to be the case. We label coaches good and bad, successful and unsuccessful. But while the Davis era is generally regarded as one of John Blake, sanctions, frustration (they were supposed to win more games), underachieving recruits, and Dwight Jones' birthday party, when it comes to wins and setting the table for wins, Davis succeeded. Odd.
Regardless of how it got here, the North Carolina program is in better shape than it had been for a while. The Heels went 8-4 in a postseason-free 2012 season, with three losses coming by a combined nine points.
UNC did only place 46th in the F/+ rankings, about the same as the previous three seasons (and quite a bit worse than 2008); and the Heels do now have to hit the field without by far their biggest offensive weapon (running back Giovani Bernard) and possibly their two best defenders (linebacker Kevin Reddick, tackle Sylvester Williams). The 4-2-5 defense Larry Fedora brought to town didn't necessarily take, and in all, we should probably tap the brakes before we get too hyped about UNC in 2013. But things have gone from "no hope" to "hope." That's something.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-4 | Adj. Record: 10-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 46|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Elon||62-0||W||32.2 - 8.1||W|
|8-Sep||at Wake Forest||27-28||L||25.2 - 44.2||L|
|15-Sep||at Louisville||34-39||L||41.2 - 33.8||W|
|22-Sep||East Carolina||27-6||W||29.4 - 13.8||W|
|29-Sep||Idaho||66-0||W||32.9 - 11.7||W|
|6-Oct||Virginia Tech||48-34||W||52.7 - 26.2||W|
|13-Oct||at Miami||18-14||W||25.9 - 18.1||W|
|20-Oct||at Duke||30-33||L||23.8 - 32.2||L|
|27-Oct||N.C. State||43-35||W||36.5 - 34.8||W|
|10-Nov||Georgia Tech||50-68||L||39.5 - 35.2||W|
|15-Nov||at Virginia||37-13||W||37.8 - 21.1||W|
|24-Nov||Maryland||45-38||W||42.7 - 39.4||W|
|Points Per Game||40.6||8||25.7||53|
|Adj. Points Per Game||35.0||19||26.6||53|
2. Three plays from 11-1 (and three from 5-7)
There's a lot you can use to spin UNC's 2012 season in either direction. The Heels lost to both Duke and Wake Forest, allowed 38 points to Maryland's no-QB offense, and basically came within three plays of finishing 5-7. Again, 46th is decent for a program undergoing NCAA sanctions and a coaching change, but it isn't just amazing overall.
At the same time, however, losing at Louisville by five points isn't exactly embarrassing. According to Adj. Points, UNC played good enough to beat an average team in 10 of 12 games. (The Georgia Tech result is a little odd in this regard; Tech was quite average, and the Heels lost by 18, but special teams and bad breaks made that game look worse than it was -- GT averaged 7.4 yards per play, UNC 7.2, which accounts for at least some of the oddity. UNC's offense was almost as good as its defense was bad.)
As the season progressed, UNC's offense improved dramatically, but not quite as quickly as the defense regressed.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): UNC 32.9, Opponent 23.5 (plus-9.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): UNC 39.1, Opponent 32.6 (plus-6.5)
This really does leave UNC in an interesting position in 2013. The offense that improved is without Bernard and a good chunk of its line this fall, while the defense that faded is rich with experience overall.
|Q1 Rk||25||1st Down Rk||31|
|Q2 Rk||39||2nd Down Rk||34|
|Q3 Rk||35||3rd Down Rk||77|
3. Best against best
North Carolina's offense nearly broke the Covariance scale last season, saving some of its best performances for its best opponents and vice versa. Granted, the Heels didn't really face many truly good defenses, but good luck finding a pattern.
- vs. Virginia Tech (22nd in Def. F/+): 7.1 yards per play
vs. Louisville (48th): 7.1
vs. Georgia Tech (58th): 7.2
- vs. East Carolina (91st): 5.8 yards per play
vs. Miami (88th): 5.8
vs. Duke (116th): 5.8
vs. Wake Forest (77th): 5.2
This was a solid offense regardless, and perhaps it's encouraging that different players starred in the Heels' best performances (against VT, Louisville, and GT). Yes, Gio Bernard had a downright silly day versus Virginia Tech (23 carries, 262 yards), but Bernard was out for the Louisville game and Romar Morris managed 172 yards and two scores in nine touches in his absence. And against Georgia Tech, Bernard was held more-or-less in check (16 carries for 78 yards, plus, yes, a 78-yard reception), but then-freshman Quinshad Davis caught seven passes for 104 yards from Bryn Renner. Renner, Davis, Morris, and other pieces do return.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Bryn Renner||6'3, 225||Sr.||**** (5.9)||276||422||3,356||65.4%||28||7||11||2.5%||7.6|
|Marquise Williams||6'2, 215||So.||**** (5.8)||10||17||127||58.8%||1||0||0||0.0%||7.5|
|Mitch Trubisky||6'3, 210||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|A.J. Blue||RB||6'2, 215||Sr.||**** (5.8)||82||433||5.3||3.7||9||+2.2|
|Romar Morris||RB||5'10, 185||So.||*** (5.6)||69||386||5.6||4.3||2||+3.4|
|Bryn Renner||QB||6'3, 225||Sr.||**** (5.9)||50||111||2.2||2.3||1||-11.9|
|Marquise Williams||QB||6'2, 215||So.||**** (5.8)||29||186||6.4||4.2||3||+2.9|
|Travis Riley||RB||6'1, 215||So.||*** (5.5)||7||18||2.6||2.4||0||-2.0|
4. If Gio had returned...
In just two seasons, Gio Bernard put up 2,481 rushing yards, 852 receiving yards, and 31 combined touchdowns from scrimmage. Plus he returned two punts for touchdowns in 2012, including one in the waning seconds against rival N.C. State. (That's seriously one of the most exciting plays you'll ever see. And they even accidentally got a two-point conversion afterward as well.) He was an all-conference back and a third-team AP All-American, and he still may have been underrated. Thanks to a redshirt year, he was already eligible for the NFL Draft, and it made perfect sense for him to declare.
But oh man, if he had returned for another year in Chapel Hill, this offense would have been something. Because there are some other exciting pieces afoot here.
Bernard's greatest value was in his versatility; yes, he averaged 6.7 yards per carry, but behind a good line he could have averaged 8.0. (UNC featured two all-conference linemen and did a decent enough job of keeping defenders out of the backfield, but short-yardage blocking was lacking, and opportunity rates were only decent considering iffy competition.) That he combined his nearly 1,300 rushing yards with 47 receptions (at 8.5 yards per target, higher than the top two wideouts) was truly special and tough to replace.
A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both showed a decent ability to follow blocks, but they weren't nearly as explosive, and UNC will almost certainly suffer a bit more on the ground because of that. That all-conference guard Jonathan Cooper and tackles Travis Bond and Brennan Williams are gone will only add to that.
|Quinshad Davis||WR||6'4, 205||So.||**** (5.8)||96||61||776||63.5%||8.1||22.7%||54.2%||8.0||110.7|
|Eric Ebron||TE||6'4, 245||Jr.||*** (5.7)||73||40||630||54.8%||8.6||17.3%||45.2%||8.7||89.9|
|Sean Tapley||WR||6'1, 185||Jr.||*** (5.7)||38||26||361||68.4%||9.5||9.0%||65.8%||9.1||51.5|
|Jack Tabb||TE||6'3, 240||Jr.||*** (5.6)||17||12||144||70.6%||8.5||4.0%||76.5%||9.6||20.5|
|Romar Morris||RB||5'10, 185||So.||*** (5.6)||16||12||204||75.0%||12.8||3.8%||56.3%||13.3||29.1|
|A.J. Blue||RB||6'2, 215||Sr.||**** (5.8)||14||9||80||64.3%||5.7||3.3%||57.1%||5.7||11.4|
|Mark McNeill||WR||6'4, 215||Jr.||NR||11||10||71||90.9%||6.5||2.6%||90.9%||8.3||10.1|
|Nic Platt||WR||6'2, 205||Jr.||NR||5||5||46||100.0%||9.2||1.2%||100.0%||5.6||6.6|
|Kendrick Singleton||WR||6'2, 200||So.||*** (5.6)|
|T.J. Thorpe||WR||6'0, 200||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Jordan Darty||WR||5'11, 175||Jr.||NR|
|Jordan Fieulleteau||WR||6'3, 205||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
5. Quinshad Davis set a bad example
As fans, we tend to assume immediate greatness for our star recruits. And it actually works out just enough that we continue to assume it. But for every Stefon Diggs (the No. 2 receiver in the 2012 class according to Rivals.com), there are a couple of Dorial Green-Beckhams (No. 1) or Nelson Agholors (No. 3), guys who have incredible star potential but don't necessarily become stars from the first game. For every Amari Cooper (No. 6), there are a few Cayleb Joneses (No. 5) or Durron Neals (No. 9). And for every Quinshad Davis (No. 34), there are quite a few Amara Darbohs (No. 30), Derrick Woodses (No. 31), Keny Lawlers (No. 33), Jody Fullers (No. 37), and Marvin Bracies (No. 39).
None of the above players are busts yet by any means, but four-star freshmen aren't supposed to just become the No. 1 receiver for a top-30 passing game right out of the box. Davis did. The Gaffney, South Carolina, product was an instant success, giving Bryn Renner a big possession target to go alongside tight end Eric Ebron, then-senior Erik Highsmith, and some good receiving running backs. And he was perhaps the primary reason for UNC's late offensive explosion. He had already put together a pretty decent freshman campaign, but he went nuclear in November, catching seven passes for 104 yards versus Georgia Tech, 16 (!) for 178 versus Virginia, and nine for 135 and two scores versus Maryland. UNC might not be able to trust its running game as much, but it was already weaker than the passing game. And as long as Renner isn't throwing every pass on second-and-11 or third-and-9, there's no reason to think UNC won't once again have at least a top-30 passing game.
Besides Davis, you've got Ebron, a sleeper Mackey Award candidate who averaged more yards per target than Davis, Highsmith, or even Bernard. You've got Sean Tapley, who as a sophomore was better than Davis in terms of both catch rate and yards per catch. You've got another potentially strong pass catcher out of the backfield in Morris, you've got a decent backup tight end in Jack Tabb, and you've got four-star sophomore T.J. Thorpe, who might actually be healthy for the first time (well, maybe). That's not bad at all.
|Jonathan Cooper||LG||47 career starts; 2012 1st All-ACC|
|James Hurst||LT||6'7, 305||Sr.||**** (6.0)||36 career starts; 2012 1st All-ACC|
|Travis Bond||RT||29 career starts|
|Brennan Williams||RT||22 career starts|
|Russell Bodine||C||6'4, 310||Jr.||*** (5.7)||14 career starts|
|Landon Turner||RG||6'4, 320||So.||**** (5.8)||4 career starts|
|Kiaro Holts||RT||6'4, 295||So.||**** (5.8)||1 career start|
|David Collins||LG||6'8, 310||Sr.||*** (5.7)|
|Nick Appel||LT||6'6, 310||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jarrod James||C||6'3, 290||So.||**** (5.8)|
|J.J. Patterson||RG||6'4, 310||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Caleb Peterson||LG||6'5, 300||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Jon Heck||LT||6'6, 300||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|John Ferranto||RT||6'5, 290||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Q1 Rk||106||1st Down Rk||59|
|Q2 Rk||120||2nd Down Rk||81|
|Q3 Rk||13||3rd Down Rk||87|
6. Get off the field (on PDs)
Speaking of bad examples, TCU has made the 4-2-5 defense look a little bit too easy. TCU head coach Gary Patterson literally wrote the book on the 4-2-5 and has made it a pretty trendy thing in recent years. If you have the right parts, the 4-2-5 can react and swarm with incredible effectiveness. But if you don't, you can get pushed around on standard downs and struggle to develop enough of a pass rush to get off the field on passing downs; you have to react and swarm for three-yard gains, not eight-yard gains. And while UNC defensive coordinator Dan Disch certainly saw success with this alignment in Fedora's last year at Southern Miss (with a brilliant front four, the Golden Eagles ranked 19th in Def. F/+), he didn't necessarily find the pieces he needed in his first year in Chapel Hill, especially as the season progressed and the secondary (in particular) got thinner.
A defense that allowed a combined 422 yards versus ECU and Idaho (impressive even considering the competition) faltered to say the least. The Heels allowed 467 passing yards to N.C. State and 380 rushing yards to Georgia Tech, then allowed three long touchdown drives in the first half against a Maryland team that was starting a true freshman linebacker at quarterback. The D made enough stops for the Heels to indeed win seven of their final nine games but allowed a combined 1,098 yards in losses to Duke and Georgia Tech.
The biggest problem this defense had was in getting off the field. UNC was at least mediocre on standard downs, ranking 62nd overall; but the Heels were an egregious 103rd on passing downs. There was no blitz, and opponents knew they had no reason to fear sitting in the pocket and picking the defense apart on second- or third-and-long.
If you've got a stout front four, one that can generate pressure without the need of blitzing, then your 4-2-5 will click (any defense will, actually). But if middle linebacker Kevin Reddick or tackle Sly Williams weren't bringing down the quarterback, it's pretty to assume nobody was. Those two are gone now.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kareem Martin||DE||6'6, 265||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||29.5||4.1%||15.5||4||0||3||1||1|
|Shakeel Rashad||BANDIT||6'2, 245||So.||*** (5.7)||11||15.5||2.1%||3.5||1.5||1||2||1||0|
|Shawn Underwood||DT||6'1, 305||Jr.||*** (5.5)||11||15.5||2.1%||2.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Tim Jackson||NT||6'5, 285||Sr.||*** (5.5)||10||13.5||1.9%||4||1||0||0||0||0|
|Devonte Brown||NT||6'3, 280||Jr.||**** (5.8)||10||11.0||1.5%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Ethan Farmer||DT||6'3, 295||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||6.5||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jessie Rogers||DE||6'4, 260||So.||*** (5.5)||12||6.0||0.8%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Justin Thomason||DT||6'4, 265||So.||*** (5.5)||5||4.5||0.6%||2||2||0||0||0||0|
|Norkeithus Otis||BANDIT||6'1, 240||Jr.||**** (5.8)||10||2.5||0.3%||1||1||0||0||1||0|
|Junior Gnonkonde||BANDIT||6'4, 240||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Greg Webb||DT||6'2, 290||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
7. More Bandit, please
The 4-2-5 relies on hybrids galore. The defense is incredibly multiple, but one of the key positions is the BANDIT position, one that serves as a defensive end/OLB. The Bandit is a playmaker's playmaker, but UNC got almost no plays out of the position last season. Dion Guy was a decent tackler, but let's put it this way: In 2011, Southern Miss Bandit Jamie Collins had 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Guy had 3.5 and one in 2012.
Guy wasn't recruited to be a Bandit, so it's not really his fault, but he was certainly replaceable … if there's anybody who can replace him, anyway. Shakeel Rashad, who ended up with as many TFLs as Guy and more sacks in minimal playing time, was intriguing, but he's out for the season with a knee injury. That leaves former four-star recruit Norkeithus Otis (the post-spring first-stringer), who did log a sack-and-strip as one his 2.5 tackles. And perhaps Junior Gnonkonde can step up.
The starting Bandit, whoever it is, is probably the most important player on the UNC defense; if he delivers quality Bandit play, everything else falls into place.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tommy Heffernan||WILL||6'1, 215||Jr.||NR||11||55.5||7.6%||8.5||3||0||2||1||0|
|Travis Hughes||WILL||6'2, 225||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||30.0||4.1%||1.5||0||0||1||2||2|
|Darius Lipford (2011)||LB||6'3, 245||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||29.5||4.0%||1.5||0||0||4||0||0|
|Jeff Schoettmer||MIKE||6'1, 220||So.||NR||12||20.0||2.8%||2||1||0||0||0||1|
|Dan Mastromatteo||MIKE||6'2, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Nathan Staub||MIKE||6'2, 240||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tre Boston||FS||6'1, 205||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||67.5||9.3%||1||0||4||6||0||0|
|Jabari Price||CB||6'0, 200||Sr.||*** (5.6)||11||63.0||8.7%||4||1||1||9||1||0|
|Tim Scott||CB||5'11, 190||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||42.0||5.8%||5.5||0||4||9||0||0|
|Darien Rankin||FS||5'11, 200||So.||*** (5.6)||11||36.5||5.0%||1||0||3||2||0||0|
|Pete Mangum||RAM||6'0, 195||So.||NR||12||26.5||3.7%||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|Terry Shankle||CB||5'11, 190||Sr.||**** (5.8)||9||22.5||3.1%||0||0||1||5||1||0|
|Sam Smiley||SS||5'11, 185||So.||** (5.3)||7||19.0||2.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Dixon||CB||6'0, 185||So.||*** (5.7)||12||12.0||1.7%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Kameron Jackson||FS||5'11, 190||So.||*** (5.5)||7||10.0||1.4%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Malik Simmons||CB||5'11, 190||So.||*** (5.6)||11||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|T.J. Jiles||CB||5'11, 165||So.||*** (5.6)||11||4.0||0.6%||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Tim Furr||DB||5'10, 180||Jr.||NR||2||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Mangum||RAM||6'0, 195||So.||NR||3||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Ellerbe||RAM||6'0, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Clint Heaven||S||6'0, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Joe Jackson||RAM||6'2, 210||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Brian Walker||CB||5'11, 175||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dominique Green||SS||5'11, 185||Fr.||NR|
8. Depth is not an issue
Sam Smiley has also been lost for the season with injury, but in all, 10 of the 12 DBs who made at least 4.0 tackles last year are back, including an aggressive pair of corners in Jabari Price and Tim Scott. The Ram position, another new one in the 4-2-5 (think hybrid safety/OLB), was also mostly devoid of playmaking in 2012 -- Gene Robinson and Pete Mangum combined for just five tackles for loss and one pass defensed, worse than Scott in both categories.
Former safety Brandon Ellerbe joins the mix at Ram, as does redshirt freshman Joe Jackson. But as with the Bandit position, there is no obvious reason to assume much improvement aside from the general "the second year in a new scheme is smoother than the first." With Price, Scott, and free safety Tre Boston leading the way, this experienced unit should at least be solid. But since the pass rush cannot assume improvement overall, the secondary will have to be downright good to get off the field in a more timely fashion.
|Tommy Hibbard||5'10, 190||Jr.||50||43.0||3||10||19||58.0%|
|Thomas Moore||5'10, 200||Jr.||19||57.2||1||5.3%|
|Thomas Moore||5'10, 200||Jr.||12-12||2-2||100.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Sean Tapley||KR||6'1, 185||Jr.||31||23.4||1|
|Romar Morris||KR||5'10, 185||So.||17||23.5||0|
|Roy Smith||PR||5'9, 170||Jr.||12||13.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||44|
|Field Goal Pct||37|
|Kick Returns Avg||33|
|Punt Returns Avg||11|
9. Well, if you have to lose Gio…
Roy Smith and his nearly 14 yards per punt return might do. Now, about those kickoffs...
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|29-Aug||at South Carolina||14|
|21-Sep||at Georgia Tech||32|
|5-Oct||at Virginia Tech||23|
|2-Nov||at N.C. State||61|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||31|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||44|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+7 / +8.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (6, 9)|
10. Wins in the back half
There is indeed optimism in Chapel Hill, but I'll say this: if there is still optimism after six games, then this season is shaping up to be an all-timer. With trips to South Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech followed by a visit from Miami in the first half of the slate, UNC will have to prove its bona fides from the opening kickoff. It will take a top-40 team to start better than about 3-3, and it might take a top-30 team to start even 4-2.
There are certainly wins on the back end (home games against Virginia, Old Dominion and Duke in November are a cushy), but even if UNC is pretty good, this season might take on a disappointing tone by August 30.