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The big 2014 North Carolina football guide: Hoping for carry-over

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North Carolina has been hailed as a sleeping giant for basically each of the last 50 years. Larry Fedora's Tar Heels return an extraordinary amount of exciting offensive talent, but will shaky defense and flaky quarterback play hold them back?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. The carry-over

I've used the word "potential" 17 times in the last three years' North Carolina previews (201120122013). It was right there in the title of my 2012 piece, which included this passage:

Every time I start to talk myself into this North Carolina, I realize I'm using the exact same logic with which people have talked themselves into UNC for years: Sleeping Giant™, recruiting rankings, potential, potential, potential. I probably shouldn't go too far down this road without acknowledging that. Still...

So when I post something like this on Twitter...

I expect some of the snarky responses that I receive.

Still...

Saying North Carolina could be quite good in 2014 doesn't require any sort of projection or "If..." list or simple "Just look at the recruits they've signed; they have to be good, right?" conjecture. All the Tar Heels have to do to be quite good in 2014 is play like they did for most of the last half of 2013.

The template is laid out for them: Marquise Williams carving out chunks of rushing yards and throwing to Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan looking like the blue-chipper he was supposed to be on the ground, Switzer breaking big punt returns left and right, and the defense preventing big plays and taking advantage of passing downs.

The Heels were basically 2013's Rice, starting poorly against a front-heavy schedule, waiting until the last moment to improve, then improving dramatically. Like Rice, they return quite a few reasons for last season's improvement. Williams, when he has his head on straight, is electric at quarterback. Davis is a proven quantity, and Switzer was the most stark revelation in the country after November 1. Young guys started living up to recruiting hype almost overnight, and in a road win over Pittsburgh and a bowl decimation of Cincinnati (not to mention an 80-20 win over an Old Dominion team that had stayed within 11 points of Pitt and 14 points of ECU), it was impossible not to get excited about this team's (gulp) potential.

If you want to doubt, though, go ahead.

  • Williams served an academics-based suspension last spring and "isn't a practice player," which tends to grate on coaches' patience levels. (Indeed, head coach Larry Fedora announced an open quarterback competition this spring.)
  • Davis and Switzer will have to adapt to life without safety-net tight end Eric Ebron, one of the most explosive, unique big men in the country.
  • The offensive line must replace two players who started for a combined six seasons.
  • The two-man pass rush is now a one-man pass rush.
  • Safety Tre Boston, the single most important player for a no-big-plays defense, is now a Carolina Panther.
  • And, of course, there have been teases before. Plenty of them. Most recently, UNC won 13 of 17 in 2010 and 2011, then lost seven of 10. The Heels won seven of nine to finish 2012, then lost five of six to start 2013.

Just enough important players left to leave doubt. But if we're looking for nothing but known quantities, UNC might have more of them of any ACC team outside of Florida State or Clemson. When we talk about the Heels, we can't help but use the word "potential." But it doesn't take that many ifs to make UNC a damn strong team in 2014.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 38
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
29-Aug at South Carolina 10 10-27 L 15.9 - 29.3 L
7-Sep Middle Tennessee 85 40-20 W 37.2 - 25.4 W
21-Sep at Georgia Tech 34 20-28 L 31.6 - 22.4 W
28-Sep East Carolina 40 31-55 L 34.7 - 31.1 W
5-Oct at Virginia Tech 27 17-27 L 33.2 - 30.3 W 2.8
17-Oct Miami 36 23-27 L 32.9 - 29.4 W 6.2
26-Oct Boston College 65 34-10 W 29.0 - 13.7 W 6.9
2-Nov at N.C. State 92 27-19 W 29.1 - 25.3 W 5.8
9-Nov Virginia 79 45-14 W 33.7 - 26.2 W 6.6
16-Nov at Pittsburgh 54 34-27 W 25.5 - 21.2 W 6.9
23-Nov Old Dominion N/A 80-20 W 44.8 - 20.1 W 11.1
30-Nov Duke 41 25-27 L 32.1 - 28.9 W 8.7
28-Dec vs. Cincinnati 64 39-17 W 33.1 - 19.1 W 10.7
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +6.8% 35 +2.3% 49 +1.0% 48
Points Per Game 32.7 43 24.5 43
Adj. Points Per Game 31.8 42 24.8 35

2. Last-ditch improvement

There are two ways to look at UNC's 2013 campaign.

Angle No. 1: UNC went young in the second half of the season and got better.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): UNC 30.9, Opponent 28.0 (plus-2.9)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): UNC 32.5, Opponent 22.1 (plus-10.4)

Longtime starting quarterback Bryn Renner was lost for the season after the NC State game, and UNC started Williams (sophomore) and Logan (freshman) in the backfield while giving Switzer (freshman) a more prominent role in the passing game -- 15 of his 32 receptions came in the final four games. After starting the season 1-5, the Heels were still just 3-5 when Williams took the reins, and the offense not only held steady but improved.

Meanwhile, the defense improved a lot. After allowing 5.8 yards per play during UNC's 1-5 start, the D allowed just 4.8 per play during the 6-1 finish.

Of course, there's another way to look at these results.

3. Gotta beat better teams

Angle No. 2: UNC may have gotten better, but the schedule definitely got easier.

If you rearrange the games in order of the opponents' F/+ rankings, you get a pretty different take on the season.

  • Actual Points Per Game (vs. Top 50): Opponent 31.8, UNC 21.0 (minus-10.8) (record: 0-6)
  • Actual Points Per Game (vs. No. 51+, sans transitioning FBS Old Dominion, an outlier): UNC 36.5, Opponent 17.8 (plus-18.7)

Against teams ranked 41st or better, UNC didn't win. There were plenty of tight losses -- 27-23 to Miami, 27-25 to Duke, 28-20 to Georgia Tech -- but the Heels couldn't get over the hump. They also couldn't keep up with the only top-20 team on the docket (South Carolina). But against lesser teams, they could use their athleticism to dominate. Throw in ODU, and they beat teams ranked 51st or worse by an average score of 43-18.

Both of these angles are true. UNC absolutely fared well against lesser teams, and the schedule just happened to be front-loaded, with five of the Heels' six top-50 opponents showing up in the first six games. But the opponent-adjusted numbers show us that UNC still improved significantly over the last half of the season. The latter gives us reason to believe the Heels will be pretty damn good in 2014; the former gives us pause.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 71 IsoPPP+ 100.2 59
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.9% 48 Succ. Rt. + 107.7 35
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.5 22 Def. FP+ 107.5 3
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 38 Redzone S&P+ 99.3 64
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.5 ACTUAL 18 -0.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 49 40 35 38
RUSHING 85 71 45 66
PASSING 28 20 24 25
Standard Downs 37 29 54
Passing Downs 50 51 64
Q1 Rk 26 1st Down Rk 41
Q2 Rk 63 2nd Down Rk 36
Q3 Rk 37 3rd Down Rk 42
Q4 Rk 59

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Bryn Renner 152 231 1765 10 5 65.8% 16 6.5% 6.6
Marquise Williams 6'2, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 126 217 1698 15 6 58.1% 5 2.3% 7.5
Kanler Coker 6'4, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Mitch Trubisky 6'3, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Caleb Henderson 6'3, 220 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

4. All Williams needed was an opportunity

Marquise Williams has spent a decent portion of his UNC career getting in his own way. Heading into a 2013 season in which he was expected to serve as Bryn Renner's primary backup, Williams had to serve a semester-long academics suspension and missed spring ball. Still, the No. 2 job was his in the fall, and when Renner's career ended early because of a shoulder injury, Williams stepped in and did well.

His passing was hit-or-miss if you take out a nearly perfect performance against an overwhelmed Old Dominion defense (20-for-27, 409 yards, five touchdowns), but it was good enough to prevent opponents from keying on the run game, which thrived with Williams behind center. In the last four games of the season, Williams rushed 45 times for 289 yards and four touchdowns, while T.J. Logan added 55 carries for 361 yards and three scores. With minimal margin for error, Williams guided the Heels toward bowl eligibility. In what ended up being a must-win at Pitt, he led the Heels to four scores in five possessions and helped to build a big lead before stalling late. (UNC went up 27-3, Pitt scored 24 straight, and Ryan Switzer bailed the Heels out with his second punt return touchdown of the game with 4:46 left.)

Williams' accomplishment -- going from untested understudy to starter and preventing a dropoff -- was impressive, but his numbers are far from unimpeachable. And it does appear he'll have to continue fending off redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky (and himself) in the fall to keep his job. But UNC's potential with Williams behind center is clear.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Marquise Williams QB 6'2, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 106 560 6 5.3 3.8 43.4%
T.J. Logan RB 5'10, 180 So. 4 stars (6.0) 93 533 4 5.7 3.4 53.8%
A.J. Blue RB 74 298 1 4.0 2.4 37.8%
Romar Morris RB 5'10, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 69 296 5 4.3 4.9 34.8%
Khris Francis RB 5'9, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 63 236 1 3.7 3.3 30.2%
Bryn Renner QB 30 100 2 3.3 2.0 40.0%
Ryan Switzer WR 5'10, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 10 29 0 2.9 1.9 40.0%
Charles Brunson RB 6'0, 200 Jr. NR 9 58 0 6.4 7.0 44.4%
Elijah Hood RB 6'0, 220 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Eric Ebron TE 96 62 973 64.6% 22.2% 56.0% 10.1 223 10.7 135.3
Quinshad Davis WR 6'4, 205 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 69 48 730 69.6% 15.9% 62.9% 10.6 171 10.0 101.5
Ryan Switzer WR 5'10, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 43 32 341 74.4% 9.9% 80.6% 7.9 -20 10.3 47.4
Sean Tapley WR 38 21 241 55.3% 8.8% 55.9% 6.3 -34 6.9 33.5
Bug Howard WR 6'4, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 37 22 278 59.5% 8.5% 45.8% 7.5 0 8.4 38.7
T.J. Thorpe WR 6'0, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 33 24 267 72.7% 7.6% 50.0% 8.1 -7 8.8 37.1
A.J. Blue RB 24 18 140 75.0% 5.5% 68.4% 5.8 -62 5.5 19.5
Jack Tabb TE 6'3, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 20 7 119 35.0% 4.6% 58.8% 6.0 -2 6.3 16.5
Romar Morris RB 5'10, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 18 12 63 66.7% 4.2% 35.3% 3.5 -80 3.9 8.8
T.J. Logan RB 5'10, 180 So. 4 stars (6.0) 17 10 124 58.8% 3.9% 38.5% 7.3 -3 7.9 17.2
Khris Francis RB 5'9, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 11 82 91.7% 2.8% 50.0% 6.8 -31 7.2 11.4
Kendrick Singleton WR 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 6 66 54.5% 2.5% 80.0% 6.0 -13 5.9 9.2
Mark McNeill WR 6'4, 215 Sr. NR 9 6 107 66.7% 2.1% 28.6% 11.9 36 10.5 14.9
Nic Platt WR 3 1 23 33.3% 0.7% N/A 7.7 5 0.0 3.2
Damien Washington WR 6'1, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Brandon Fritts TE 6'4, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Devin Perry WR 6'2, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Avery Edwards TE 6'5, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

5. Ryan Switzer, receiver

By the end of the season, few receiving duos had accomplished more than Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis. Ebron's elite athleticism made him a first-round draft pick; he caught 112 passes for 1,805 yards (16.1 per catch) and eight touchdowns in his career. And in just two years, Davis has caught 109 balls for 1,506 yards and 15 scores. Both players averaged better than 10.0 yards per target in 2013 despite shuffling at quarterback.

With Ebron now preparing for his first season with the Detroit Lions, Davis needs a new dance partner. Granted, nobody in the UNC receiving corps is going to be capable of producing the same matchup advantages and size-to-explosiveness ratio as Ebron, but quality is quality, and UNC will need a little more of it.

Enter Ryan Switzer. While Johnathan Howard, also a freshman in 2013, had some promising moments (seven catches for 105 yards against N.C. State and Virginia), Switzer broke out late in the season. Granted, that was more because of his otherworldly run of punt returns (five touchdowns, all after November 8), he became a threat in the passing game as well. After catching just 17 passes for 126 yards through nine games, he caught 15 for 215 and two touchdowns in the final four. When people talk about the proverbial lightbulb coming on for freshmen, they have Switzer's explosion in mind.

Switzer is already part of the most potent 1-2 punch in the country when it comes to special teams -- he and punter Tommy Hibbard are dominant field position weapons -- but if Switzer can also become a reliable No. 2 man in the receiving corps, everything else falls into place nicely. Davis is a proven No. 1, and players like Howard, T.J. Thorpe and perhaps incoming freshman Devin Perry can play complementary roles. Plus, senior tight end Jack Tabb showed at least a little bit of big play ability in 2013.

There are options here, as long as somebody becomes a dependable No. 2.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.1 3.12 2.71 40.5% 65.1% 16.8% 172.4 3.1% 4.7%
Rank 52 38 110 54 80 31 10 26 38
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
James Hurst LT 49 1st All-ACC
Russell Bodine C 27
Landon Turner RG 6'4, 320 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 17
Jon Heck RT 6'6, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13
Caleb Peterson LG 6'5, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12
Kiaro Holts RT 6'4, 295 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 1
Jarrod James C 0
David Collins RG 0
Nick Appel RT 0
Will Dancy LG 6'4, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0
J.J. Patterson LG 6'4, 310 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Lucas Crowley C 6'3, 270 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
John Ferranto LT 6'5, 290 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
R.J. Prince LT 6'6, 310 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Brad Henson RG 6'5, 295 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Bentley Spain LT 6'6, 285 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jared Cohen OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Josh Allen OL 6'3, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

6. Keeping defenders out of the backfield

UNC's offensive line did its job in 2013. It maintained solid sack rates despite the late-season insertion of a dual-threat quarterback (dual-threats have the nasty tendency to take a ton of sacks), and while its run numbers as a whole were no more than slightly above average, it kept defenders out of the backfield, ranking 31st in Stuff Rate. Even if you're not generating tons of opportunities upfield, and even if you struggle in short-yardage situations (as UNC did in 2013), if you keep defenders from making tackles for loss and moving you backwards, you can maintain a pretty efficient offense. UNC had that in 2013, and it could again, but only if the Heels successfully replace tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine, who combined for 76 career starts.

UNC has recruited well up front and still returns four players who have combined for 43 career starts. And in all, returning three starters signifies solid continuity. But Hurst in particular was really good, and a dropoff is at least conceivable.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.06 26 IsoPPP+ 109.7 21
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.2% 58 Succ. Rt. + 103.5 45
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.4 85 Off. FP+ 98.5 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 33 Redzone S&P+ 113.3 22
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.3 ACTUAL 21.0 -3.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 64 34 45 49
RUSHING 83 49 57 62
PASSING 50 25 28 30
Standard Downs 43 59 27
Passing Downs 16 27 20
Q1 Rk 37 1st Down Rk 46
Q2 Rk 21 2nd Down Rk 15
Q3 Rk 55 3rd Down Rk 33
Q4 Rk 19

7. Opponents knew to run

UNC's 2013 defense was basically good at three things: rushing the passer, preventing big plays, and stiffening near the end zone. Hey, if you can only be good at three things, that's a pretty decent list. But the run defense was a bit of a problem, and opponents knew it. UNC faced a heavy dose of rushing, especially on standard downs; opponents rushed 66.6 percent of the time on standard downs against the Heels, seventh most in the country. (Two of the teams above them on the list -- Army and Air Force -- played at least two flexbone teams, while UNC played only one: Georgia Tech.)

Now, the ACC was a relatively run-heavy league -- Florida State faced 66.1 percent runs on standard downs (eighth), Clemson 64.9 percent (13th), etc. But UNC still faced a higher percentage than anybody else in the league, and it wasn't hard to see why. Injuries thinned out the front four a big, and the size of ends like Nortkeithus Otis and Junior Gnonkonde wasn't exactly a run deterrent. Plus, passing wasn't the safest proposition.

With Kareem Martin, the only end with decent size, gone, it's hard to see opponents choosing against the run this time around either. But as with last year, UNC should have pretty good linebacker play, and that should at least help to prevent big plays, even if efficiency is still an issue.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.1 3.13 3.31 39.1% 59.6% 19.3% 127.3 5.8% 8.7%
Rank 71 92 66 63 22 60 20 33 27
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kareem Martin DE 13 64.0 8.1% 21.5 11.5 0 3 3 0
Norkeithus Otis BANDIT 6'1, 240 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 43.0 5.4% 14.0 8.5 1 2 3 0
Tim Jackson DT 13 20.0 2.5% 0.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Ethan Farmer NT 6'3, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 19.5 2.5% 2.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Junior Gnonkonde DE 6'4, 240 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13 18.0 2.3% 0.0 0.0 0 2 1 0
Justin Thomason DT 6'4, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 14.5 1.8% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devonte Brown DT 6'3, 280 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 8.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shakeel Rashad BANDIT 6'2, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 5 7.0 0.9% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Mikey Bart BANDIT 6'3, 245 So. 3 stars (5.5) 8 6.5 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shawn Underwood NT 6'1, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 1
Jessie Rogers DE 6'4, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Greg Webb NT 6'2, 310 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dajaun Drennon DE 6'4, 230 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Nazair Jones DT 6'5, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Robert Dinkins DE 6'2, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)







8. Otis needs a bandmate

UNC ranked 20th in Adj. Sack Rate, which was impressive considering only two players managed more than 2.5 sacks. Martin and Otis combined for 20 sacks, six forced fumbles, and six passes defensed; once opponents were leveraged into passing downs (which sometimes took a while), these two wrecked shop.

Now Martin's gone, and Otis needs a new complement. Gnonkonde didn't do much damage in a backup role last year, so the Heels might have to turn to Shakeel Rashad or youngsters like Mikey Bart, Dajuan Drennon, and freshman Robert Dinkins. Or they'll have to blitz more. If the pass rush suffers and the run defense fails to improve, that is, shall we say, problematic.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jeff Schoettmer MIKE 6'1, 220 Jr. NR 13 65.5 8.3% 4.5 0.5 0 3 0 0
Travis Hughes WILL 6'2, 225 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 58.0 7.3% 5.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Darius Lipford MIKE 6'3, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 24.0 3.0% 6.0 2.5 0 1 0 0
Nathan Staub MIKE 6'2, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) 8 14.5 1.8% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jack Tabb WILL 6'3, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 9.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dan Mastromatteo MIKE 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 7 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Jackson WILL 6'2, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Tyrell Tomlin LB 6'0, 220 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Cayson Collins LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tre Boston FS 13 71.5 9.0% 4.5 0 5 8 0 0
Jabari Price CB 13 71.0 9.0% 4.5 0 0 9 1 0
Dominique Green SS 5'11, 185 So. NR 13 46.5 5.9% 1.5 0 3 5 0 0
Tim Scott FS 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 43.0 5.4% 2 1 2 3 0 0
Malik Simmons RAM 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 39.0 4.9% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Brandon Ellerbe RAM 13 21.5 2.7% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Brian Walker CB 5'11, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13 19.5 2.5% 0 0 1 6 0 0
Sam Smiley (2012) FS 5'11, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 7 19.0 2.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terry Shankle CB 8 17.5 2.2% 4 2 0 2 0 0
Darien Rankin SS 5'11, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 10.5 1.3% 0 0 1 1 0 0
T.J. Jiles CB 5'11, 165 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 9.5 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Dixon CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 8.5 1.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Desmond Lawrence CB 6'1, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 8 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Damien Washington S 6'1, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Mangum RAM 6'0, 195 Jr. NR 13 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kameron Jackson FS 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Donnie Miles RAM 5'11, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
M.J. Stewart DB 5'11, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

9. Replacing Tre

Let's play Optimist vs. Pessimist. An optimist sees Otis back, along with every linebacker of consequence and a pair of safeties (Dominique Green and Tim Scott) who combined for 13 passes defensed and 3.5 tackles for loss. An optimist also sees corner Brian Walker, who made some plays as a freshman, and stellar experience at defensive tackle.

A pessimist sees the loss of Martin as a killer up front. A pessimist also sees the loss of Tre Boston as a deal-breaker. If UNC relied on big-play prevention to eventually make stops, and if the Heels lose their single best reason for big-play prevention, that's an issue, right? Green, Scott, and Malik Simmons give the Heels experience at safety, as does the return of safety Sam Smiley from injury. But Boston and Jabari Price still combined for nine tackles for loss and 22 passes defensed, and as a whole UNC hasn't recruited as well in the defensive backfield as it has in other positions. You lose that level of play-making abilty, and you don't necessarily get it back.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tommy Hibbard 5'10, 190 Sr. 65 43.0 6 12 25 56.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nick Weiler 6'0, 195 Jr. 67 62.9 19 1 28.4%
Thomas Moore 5'10, 200 Sr. 14 61.4 4 0 28.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Thomas Moore 5'10, 200 Sr. 46-48 13-14 92.9% 1-5 20.0%
Cody Johnson 3-3 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
T.J. Thorpe KR 6'0, 200 Jr. 20 21.2 0
T.J. Logan KR 5'10, 180 So. 19 26.9 2
Ryan Switzer PR 5'10, 175 So. 24 20.9 5
T.J. Thorpe PR 6'0, 200 Jr. 5 8.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 48
Field Goal Efficiency 114
Punt Return Efficiency 8
Kick Return Efficiency 100
Punt Efficiency 2
Kickoff Efficiency 90
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 94

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Liberty NR
6-Sep San Diego State 81
20-Sep at East Carolina 57
27-Sep at Clemson 5
4-Oct Virginia Tech 19
11-Oct at Notre Dame 25
18-Oct Georgia Tech 44
25-Oct at Virginia 62
1-Nov Miami NR
15-Nov Pittsburgh 39
20-Nov at Duke 56
29-Nov N.C. State 66
Five-Year F/+ Rk 8.2% (37)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 31
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 3 / 5.8
TO Luck/Game -1.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)

10. 9/27 to 10/11

Larry Fedora has what a lot of UNC coaches have had in recent history: a team loaded with potential. And it's technically not fair to lump Fedora in with previous disappointments; he hasn't been around long enough. But his 2014 Heels have just enough question marks to scare you away from committing to a team that has a lot of exciting young pieces.

There's good news, however.

  1. We don't have to wait long to find out what UNC will be in 2014. After a tricky road trip to face ECU on September 20, the Heels embark on one hell of a three-game stretch: at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame. UNC could be 2-4 or 5-1 when Georgia Tech comes to town on October 18. Needless to say, the stories will be writing themselves at that point either way.
  2. Whatever UNC is in 2014, it will probably improve in 2015, when (in theory) Williams, Switzer, Logan, Davis, and perhaps the entire starting offensive line return, along with up to seven or eight defensive starters. (So if you're hesitant to jump on the bandwagon, know you'll have another opportunity in 12 months.)

Eventually, we all get seduced by UNC's Sleeping Giant™ potential. I'm trying as hard as I can not to succumb, but it's getting difficult.