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North Carolina football finally lived up to its potential! (Now what?)

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While the Coastal could be a hell of a race to watch this year, UNC might still be the safest bet. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the ACC so far!

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Finally, a breakthrough

If I'm convincing myself this is the year North Carolina puts everything together, it must be mid-June, and there must be about 12 weeks left in the offseason.

And here's where I talk myself into the Heels. The offense that started to break through returns almost everybody. The defense welcomes back almost every lineman and defensive back and brings in Gene Chizik, one of the best coordinators on the market.

All you have to do is ignore the letters on the helmet and that pretty Carolina blue, and you'll be talking yourself into the Heels, too.

What happens when your annual tradition of talking yourself into UNC actually comes to fruition? Do you keep doing it? Do you talk yourself into a further breakthrough?

And what happens if the long-awaited breakthrough wasn't quite as impressive as it seemed?

In 2015, Larry Fedora and UNC won 11 games and spent time in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1997, when Mack Brown was the head coach. They won their first division title, and after falling behind by 19 points early in the fourth quarter against No. 1 Clemson, they damn near came back, getting to within eight points and falling only after a controversial onside kick penalty.

A bowl loss meant UNC finished only 15th in the AP poll after threatening to reach higher, but it had been nearly 20 years since the Heels had done this.

So why didn't the numbers like UNC very much? The Heels nearly caught Clemson and beat Miami, Duke, Wake Forest, and Illinois by an average score of 56-20. Their ceiling was immense, and their floor only made a couple of appearances. Why did S&P+ only place them 29th at the end of the year?

It starts with schedule strength. UNC faced only two particularly good teams (Clemson and Baylor) and lost by a combined 19 points. Their best wins were against teams like Pitt and NC State, and two of their non-conference slots were filled by FCS opponents (which is the case again in 2016). Their great performances were offset by quite a few that were just fine.

Saying these things got me yelled at by UNC fans last year, but after the defense had been exposed a bit, I was pretty comfortable with where the Heels ended up in S&P+. And if nothing else, it shows that there's still room for this team to grow.

Setting the bar at 11 wins making the encore pretty tricky, but UNC returns a deep well of talent in the skill positions and on the offensive line, and the defense brings back enough to suggest that, after moving from woeful to mediocre in coordinator Gene Chizik's first season, the odds of continued growth are high.

The Tar Heels lose just enough play-makers to raise an eyebrow, but depth is solid in most units, and if a new quarterback emerges to replace Marquise Williams, you might be looking at back-to-back division titles. It doesn't take that much of a leap to get there.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-3 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 24 | Final S&P+ Rk: 29
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep vs. South Carolina 88 13-17 L 33% 36% +1.1 -1.0
12-Sep NC A&T N/A 53-14 W 85% 100% +7.2
19-Sep Illinois 65 48-14 W 80% 97% +26.3 +24.5
26-Sep Delaware N/A 41-14 W 51% 96% -9.4
3-Oct at Georgia Tech 64 38-31 W 53% 71% +20.9 +14.0
17-Oct Wake Forest 92 50-14 W 89% 100% +32.0 +19.0
24-Oct Virginia 78 26-13 W 81% 99% -4.9 -4.5
29-Oct at Pittsburgh 46 26-19 W 80% 96% +8.8 +4.0
7-Nov Duke 74 66-31 W 93% 100% +35.7 +27.0
14-Nov Miami-FL 62 59-21 W 88% 99% +28.7 +26.0
21-Nov at Virginia Tech 59 30-27 W 67% 83% +1.1 -3.5
28-Nov at NC State 49 45-34 W 72% 82% +14.8 +5.0
5-Dec vs. Clemson 2 37-45 L 53% 28% +8.8 -3.0
29-Dec vs. Baylor 14 38-49 L 38% 11% -5.9 -9.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 39.1 17 28.6 70
Points Per Game 40.7 9 24.5 42

2. Fifth gear was impressive

Looking back, it's not hard to explain why UNC's S&P+ ratings ended up lower than it may have seemed they should be. A couple of dominant early games were offset by opponent adjustments and a loss to a South Carolina team that ended up far weaker than anticipated. Meanwhile, the defense gave out at the end of the year, turning each game into a shootout.

In the middle of the season, though, the Heels clicked. And it was impressive to watch.

  • First 5 games:
    Record: 4-1 | Average percentile rating: 60% (~top 50) | Yards per play: UNC 7.3, Opp 5.0 (+2.3)
  • Next 5 games:
    Record: 5-0 | Average percentile rating: 86% (~top 20) | Yards per play: UNC 7.9, Opp 5.4 (+2.5)
  • Last 4 games:
    Record: 2-2 | Average percentile rating: 58% (~top 55) | Yards per play: UNC 6.6, Opp 6.1 (+0.5)

The middle of the year is when S&P+ lost track. Three times in five games, they overachieved their projected score by at least four touchdowns. Their massacres of Duke and Miami were ridiculous. They came back down to earth, but if nothing else, this five-game span was a loud hint of UNC's capabilities.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.44 4 IsoPPP+ 123.6 15
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.8% 18 Succ. Rt. + 115.4 17
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 34 Def. FP+ 28.3 44
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 12 Redzone S&P+ 113.0 28
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.6 ACTUAL 19 -4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 18 14 17 15
RUSHING 18 12 16 11
PASSING 34 24 26 25
Standard Downs 9 19 8
Passing Downs 28 24 31
Q1 Rk 17 1st Down Rk 3
Q2 Rk 15 2nd Down Rk 2
Q3 Rk 4 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 13

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Marquise Williams 219 357 3072 24 10 61.3% 15 4.0% 8.0
Mitch Trubisky 6'3, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9135 40 47 555 6 0 85.1% 1 2.1% 11.4
Caleb Henderson 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9165
Nathan Elliott 6'1, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423
Chazz Surratt 6'3, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8944
Logan Byrd 6'3, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777

3. The small-sample all-star

Williams' career in Tar Heel blue was a reminder of how long four years can be. As a freshman in 2012, he spelled QB Bryn Renner in blowouts and dropped serious hints about his dual-threat potential. He dealt with academic issues and briefly left school, but each year put a few more pieces together.

After throwing for more than 4,700 yards and rushing for more than 1,300 in his sophomore and junior seasons, he completed the puzzle in 2015. He averaged 8 yards per pass attempt and 7.4 yards per (non-sack) carry. A lack of schedule strength boosted his numbers a bit, but he turned into the player it appeared he could one day become years earlier.

As is the case in college football, you put the pieces together, and then you leave. Williams is out of eligibility, so Fedora will attempt to keep UNC moving with a new guy.

Small samples in 2012 led us to a pretty accurate conclusion on Williams' potential. And if they do the same for Mitch Trubisky, all will be well.

In two years of backing up Williams, Trubisky has thrown 125 passes. Most came in the latter stages of blowout wins, which means they have to be discounted heavily, but his numbers have been eye-popping: 82-for-125, 1,014 yards, 11 touchdowns, four interceptions, 156.4 passer rating. And he was nearly flawless in 2015, completing 85 percent of his passes and topping Williams with 7.3 yards per carry.

Again, the sample is tiny and perhaps misleading. But when you produce those numbers, then you seize control of the starting job in spring ball, it's hard not to create optimism.

If offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer has a quarterback, he should have everything else he needs, too.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Elijah Hood TB 6'0, 220 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9760 219 1463 17 6.7 6.2 46.6% 4 1
Marquise Williams QB 143 1052 13 7.4 7.6 46.2% 9 5
T.J. Logan TB 5'10, 190 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9251 67 400 5 6.0 7.4 35.8% 3 1
Ty'Son Williams TB 6'0, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9000 19 57 0 3.0 1.5 21.1% 0 0
Mitch Trubisky QB 6'3, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9135 15 109 3 7.3 10.0 40.0% 2 1
Khris Francis TB 5'9, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8576 11 37 0 3.4 4.6 18.2% 0 0
Romar Morris TB 10 64 1 6.4 3.2 60.0% 0 0
Charles Brunson TB 9 25 1 2.8 2.5 22.2% 0 0
Caleb Henderson QB 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9165 5 53 0 10.6 6.4 80.0% 1 0
Jordon Brown RB 5'10, 180 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8715





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Quinshad Davis WR 82 55 638 67.1% 21.0% 7.8 65.9% 58.5% 1.22
Ryan Switzer WR 5'10, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8706 79 56 708 70.9% 20.2% 9.0 67.1% 45.6% 1.82
Bug Howard WR 6'5, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8753 57 29 488 50.9% 14.6% 8.6 52.6% 43.9% 1.82
Mack Hollins WR 6'4, 210 Sr. NR NR 51 30 745 58.8% 13.0% 14.6 70.6% 52.9% 2.66
Brandon Fritts TE 6'4, 245 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8500 21 16 203 76.2% 5.4% 9.7 57.1% 66.7% 1.39
Kendrick Singleton TE 21 12 142 57.1% 5.4% 6.8 76.2% 38.1% 1.70
T.J. Logan TB 5'10, 190 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9251 16 11 151 68.8% 4.1% 9.4 50.0% 43.8% 2.19
Elijah Hood TB 6'0, 220 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9760 16 13 71 81.3% 4.1% 4.4 68.8% 31.2% 1.25
Austin Proehl WR 5'10, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8033 14 12 225 85.7% 3.6% 16.1 57.1% 78.6% 1.89
Damien Washington WR 11 8 115 72.7% 2.8% 10.5 81.8% 72.7% 1.38
Romar Morris TB 9 9 54 100.0% 2.3% 6.0 88.9% 66.7% 0.95
Jordan Fieulleteau WR 6'3, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8597 7 6 100 85.7% 1.8% 14.3 28.6% 57.1% 2.24
Jordan Cunningham
(Vandy)
WR 6'2, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8969
Devin Perry WR 6'2, 205 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8600
Josh Cabrera WR 6'3, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8498
Carl Tucker TE 6'2, 240 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8612
Garrett Walston TE 6'4, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8741
Rontavius Groves WR 5'11, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8734

4. All the weapons you need

Quinshad Davis provided Williams with a sure thing. Of the 135 players targeted at least 80 times last year, his 58.5 percent success rate ranked 13th, sixth among power conference receivers. His average of 7.8 yards per target wasn't particularly impressive for a No. 1 target, but his efficiency was quite useful.

Without Davis, Trubisky will need to find different options for moving the chains consistently. But it's hard to look at this set of skill position guys and feel any sort of pessimism, not with the fivesome of running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan and receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, and Mack Hollins returning.

Clemson game aside, Hood and Logan were magnificent last year, especially down the stretch. With a division title to seize, Hood rushed 55 times for 467 yards and five touchdowns over the final three games of the regular season. Against a solid NC State run defense, he and Logan combined for an absurd 320 yards on just 27 carries.

Of the 53 players who rushed at least 200 times in 2015, only two combined an opportunity rate of at least 46 percent with an explosiveness average of at least 6 highlight yards per opportunity: Hood and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. That's awfully good company to keep.

Meanwhile, Switzer, Howard, and Hollins combined for 115 catches, 1,945 yards, and 10.4 yards per target. Losing your top target but returning that is rare. Granted, all five of these players could be gone after 2016 (if Hood goes pro, and he probably should), that's something you worry about in 2017. For now, soak it in.

Efficiency could indeed be a slight issue in the passing game, though tight end Brandon Fritts could still give Trubisky a solid possession option, and Logan and Hood could probably stand to catch a few more passes as well.

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 124 3.41 4.06 43.3% 58.8% 15.2% 150.9 3.6% 5.2%
Rank 3 5 5 20 109 6 27 35 21
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Landon Turner RG 14 42 2015 All-American, 2015 1st All-ACC
Jon Heck RT 6'7, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8339 14 38 2015 2nd All-ACC
Caleb Peterson LG 6'5, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8767 14 37 2015 2nd All-ACC
Lucas Crowley C 6'3, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8557 14 27
John Ferranto LT 6'6, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081 4 17
Bentley Spain LT 6'6, 300 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9433 10 10
Will Dancy OG



0 2
Brad Henson RG 6'5, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8593 0 0
R.J. Prince RT 6'6, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8810 0 0
Tommy Hatton C 6'3, 285 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9215

William Sweet OT 6'7, 300 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9067

Mason Veal OG 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8772

Jay-Jay McCargo OL 6'4, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8847

Luke Elder OL 6'4, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8584

Tyler Pritchett OL 6'3, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8534

5. One key loss

The UNC line is in the same position as the skill core, losing one key player but returning more than most.

All-American guard Landon Turner is gone, but it's hard to worry too much when you return two more all-conference guys (Jon Heck and Caleb Peterson) and three others who have started at least 10 games each.

UNC's line was spectacular last year, ranking third in Adj. Line Yards and 27th in Adj. Sack Rate. It's rare to keep your sack rate under 5 percent when you've got a mobile quarterback (mobile QBs tend to trust their legs a bit too much and take quite a few sacks) who is looking downfield quite a bit. The Heels stunk in short-yardage, and with only one guy topping 300 pounds, they don't have the biggest line in the world. But they were effective for Williams, Hood, and company last year, and it's hard to imagine them being much less effective this time around.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.11 5 IsoPPP+ 99.7 69
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.2% 108 Succ. Rt. + 87.9 109
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.3 25 Off. FP+ 31.5 30
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 28 Redzone S&P+ 94.0 92
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 26.0 +1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 96 88 109 69
RUSHING 122 116 123 101
PASSING 18 55 74 37
Standard Downs 87 117 66
Passing Downs 75 82 72
Q1 Rk 59 1st Down Rk 86
Q2 Rk 84 2nd Down Rk 74
Q3 Rk 114 3rd Down Rk 76
Q4 Rk 77

6. Improved vs. good

It was a "one of these things, not like the other ones" experience when the 2015 Broyles Award finalists were mentioned last year.

The award is given to the top assistant coaches in the country, and it wasn't surprising to see those associated with the top units in the country represented. Kirby Smart's Alabama defense ranked first in Def. S&P+. Brent Venables' Clemson defense ranked fourth. Kendal Briles' Baylor offense ranked first in Off. S&P+. Lincoln Riley's Oklahoma offense ranked eighth.

Chizik was also a finalist. His UNC defense ranked 70th.

He didn't run an elite unit, but there's no question that the Heels' defense improved. They rose 29 spots from 2014's No. 99 ranking, and while they were less efficient, they did an infinitely better job of preventing big plays: They allowed just 60 gains of 20-plus yards (68th in FBS) after allowing 84 (127th) in one fewer game in 2014.

Chizik applied an extreme bend-don't-break approach, and with the UNC offense cruising for most of the year, the tactic worked. The Heels didn't make a lot of disruptive plays, but they forced opposing quarterbacks to remain patient, and few succeeded. On first downs, the most QB-friendly of downs, opponents completed just 54 percent of their passes with two touchdowns, nine interceptions, and just a 104.0 passer rating. On third downs, the rating sank to 98.8.

The UNC run defense was horrific, but the pass D meant UNC had at least one relative strength. That was one more than in 2014.

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 88.0 3.42 3.60 42.8% 68.2% 13.7% 85.3 5.0% 4.9%
Rank 117 124 104 114 81 125 91 65 108
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dajaun Drennon DE 6'4, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9013 12 29.5 3.4% 5.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Nazair Jones DT 6'5, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 10 29.5 3.4% 4.0 0.0 1 3 1 0
Jeremiah Clarke DT 6'5, 315 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8850 14 29.5 3.4% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Thomason DT 14 28.0 3.2% 4.5 3.5 0 0 0 0
Junior Gnonkonde DE
12 26.0 3.0% 7.0 3.5 0 1 0 1
Jessie Rogers DE 13 25.0 2.9% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Mikey Bart DE 6'3, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8267 14 22.5 2.6% 6.5 6.5 0 0 1 0
Tyler Powell DT 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8347 11 16.0 1.8% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Robert Dinkins DT 6'1, 270 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631 14 13.0 1.5% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Jalen Dalton DT 6'6, 280 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9727 9 11.5 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Malik Carney DE 6'3, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8275 3 8.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Crawford DT 6'1, 310 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8726 2 3.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jason Strowbridge DE 6'4, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8702
Tomon Fox DE 6'3, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8839
Kyree Campbell DT 6'4, 305 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8752
Nolan DeFranco DE 6'6, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8406








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shakeel Rashad WILL 14 104.0 12.0% 8.5 1.5 2 2 3 0
Jeff Schoettmer MIKE 14 72.0 8.3% 6.5 0.0 2 1 1 0
Andre Smith MIKE 6'0, 235 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681 14 38.5 4.4% 2.0 1.0 1 1 1 0
Cayson Collins SAM 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8665 12 30.5 3.5% 3.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Cole Holcomb SAM 6'1, 215 So. NR NR 14 12.0 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ayden Bonilla WILL 6'2, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7985 14 5.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Allen Artis LB 6'1, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8660 12 3.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Jackson LB
1 3.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hunter Crafford WILL 6'2, 225 Jr. NR NR
Johnathon Sutton LB 6'0, 230 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8758
J.B. Copeland LB 6'3, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8067
Jonathan Smith LB 6'1, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8634
Tyrone Hopper LB 6'4, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543
Dominique Ross LB 6'3, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8493








7. Less juggling, please

Indeed, the run defense was awful. UNC ranked 116th in Rushing S&P+, 117th in Adj. Line Yards, and 125th in stuff rate, and anyone who watched the bowl performance against Baylor won't be surprised by any of those numbers.

At least part of the issue came from an uncertain, constantly shuffled defensive line. Twelve linemen ended up averaging at least 0.9 tackles per game (which is a pretty good sign that you are a "regular" of sorts), but while four played in all 14 games, the other eight missed a combined 40 games. The lineup for one game looked little like the lineup for another.

The line technically has to replace three of last year's top six tacklers, but nine of those 12 regulars return. Ends Mikey Bart and DeJaun Drennon combined for a decent 11.5 tackles for loss, and while all of Bart's play-making came in the pass rush, it appears there is decent run-stopping potential at tackle once the level of experience improves. Nazair Jones and Tyler Powell were sophomores last year, and Jeremiah Clarke, Robert Dinkins, Jalen Dalton, and Andrew Crawford were freshmen.

As with the offensive line, the D-line isn't enormous. Only Clarke and Crawford top 300 pounds (and in 2016, a 295-pound tackle could be seen as undersized). Still, the line was less than the sum of its parts last year, and if it can both set and maintain a steady rotation this year, I would expect improvement. Almost can't get worse.

There are questions at linebacker, though, where Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer combined for 176 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, and four forced fumbles. Sophomore Andre Smith and junior Cayson Collins each flashed potential last year, and with no seniors in the likely rotation, whatever the linebackers do in 2016, they will probably do more in 2017. Still, there isn't as much known play-making ability in this front seven as there are for quite a few other ACC Coastal teams. The offense and pass defense will have to remain strong because while improvement in run defense is likely, there might only be a little bit of improvement.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Donnie Miles SS 5'11, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8603 14 102.0 11.8% 2 0 0 2 1 0
Des Lawrence CB 6'1, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8628 14 51.0 5.9% 2.5 0 2 14 0 0
M.J. Stewart CB 5'11, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8715 12 48.0 5.5% 2.5 1 4 14 1 0
Sam Smiley FS 11 36.5 4.2% 1 0 1 1 0 1
Dominquie Green FS 5'11, 190 Sr. NR NR 14 33.5 3.9% 0 0 2 2 1 0
Malik Simmons CB 12 30.0 3.5% 0 0 2 7 0 0
Brian Walker CB
8 10.5 1.2% 1 0 0 5 0 0
Mike Hughes CB
12 10.5 1.2% 0 0 0 3 0 0
J.K. Britt FS 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8563 10 6.0 0.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Cameron Albright S 6'1, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610
Patrice Rene DB 6'2, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777
Myles Dorn DB 6'2, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8736
K.J. Sails DB 5'11, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8653
Myles Wolfolk DB 6'0, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8552
Greg Ross DB 6'1, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8502








8. Depth issues in the back

Injuries could turn a strength into a weakness pretty quickly. UNC returns four of its top five defensive backs, including a pair of monster play-makers in corners Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart (combined: five TFLs, six INTs, 28 PBUs). They were disruptive as hell despite a less-than-reliable pass rush. Meanwhile, safeties Donnie Miles and Dominquie Green have proven reasonably reliable as well.

Most of last year's second string is gone, however, and after these four strong upperclassmen, the pool of DB talent is loaded with freshmen and a couple of sophomores. Players like Patrice Rene, Myles Dorn, and Cameron Albright were pretty well-regarded recruits, but they are quite green. You don't want to have to rely on them, at least early in 2016. With the projected starting four, this is a top-50 pass defense even if the pass rush doesn't improve. With a couple of injuries, the floor sinks pretty far.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Joey Mangili 6'3, 210 Sr. 24 40.8 2 10 7 70.8%
Corbin Daly 6'3, 200 So. 13 37.9 1 4 3 53.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nick Weiler 6'0, 190 Sr. 103 62.7 55 4 53.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Nick Weiler 6'0, 190 Sr. 67-67 16-17 94.1% 4-6 66.7%
Freeman Jones 6'0, 200 So. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
T.J. Logan KR 5'10, 190 Sr. 21 23.4 0
Mike Hughes KR 3 35.3 0
Ryan Switzer PR 5'10, 185 Sr. 22 13.7 2
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 17
Field Goal Efficiency 4
Punt Return Success Rate 52
Kick Return Success Rate 11
Punt Success Rate 116
Kickoff Success Rate 14

9. A major special teams advantage

Granted, punting was a bit of an issue, but in Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan, and Nick Weiler, UNC has three of the ACC's better special teams weapons. Switzer has been one of the best punt returners in the nation for three years, Logan's kick returns were efficient if not incredibly explosive, and Weiler was automatic inside of 40 yards and pretty good outside of 40, too. If Joey Mangili can get an extra yard or two out of his punts, while still producing mostly fair catches, this could be a top-five special teams unit.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep vs. Georgia 15 -4.9 39%
10-Sep at Illinois 76 7.4 66%
17-Sep James Madison NR 34.4 98%
24-Sep Pittsburgh 29 4.5 60%
1-Oct at Florida State 5 -11.9 25%
8-Oct Virginia Tech 32 5.5 62%
15-Oct at Miami 30 -2.2 45%
22-Oct at Virginia 68 5.9 63%
5-Nov Georgia Tech 54 10.4 73%
10-Nov at Duke 51 3.2 57%
19-Nov The Citadel NR 34.4 98%
25-Nov N.C. State 40 7.4 67%
Projected wins: 7.5
Five-Year F/+ Rk 11.0% (45)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 26 / 23
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / 1.3
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.2
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 64% (50%, 78%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 11.0 (0.0)

10. You only need to be good to have another great year

UNC returns quite a bit of its defensive production (mostly because of the cornerbacks) and is projected to improve slightly despite the losses of Williams and Davis.

And with the schedule, that might be enough to make the Heels the Coastal favorites again. They do have to head to Tallahassee, but in terms of primary Coastal challengers, they get Pitt and Virginia Tech at home.

Thanks to both a friendly ACC home schedule and two more FCS opponents, UNC has more likely to sure wins than most of the teams in the ACC's midsection. Per S&P+, they have at least a 66 percent chance of winning in five games, and they're only below 45 percent in two.

UNC isn't too many ifs away from another season of double-digit wins: If Trubisky turns out to be the real deal, and if the defense survives a potential lack of depth in the back, they're there.