North Carolina Season Win Total Prediction
Opponents from near and far know full well about North Carolina’s lethal offensive attack, but can those on the other side of the ball do enough to lift the program to even greater heights in 2016?
Last season, Larry Fedora’s crew paced the nation in yards per play (7.28). On several occasions, though, a sieve-like defense made the Chapel Hill faithful wail in agony. Never was that more apparent than in the Russell Athletic Bowl, as the Tar Heels suffered a 49-38 beating at the hands of Baylor.
Nonetheless, UNC posted a double-digit win total for the first time since 1997. With the bulk of the squad’s top skill guys back in the fold, this fall has the potential to be equally enthralling. Online sports book Bovada.lv projects the school for 8.5 victories.
After breaking 20-plus university records, quarterback Marquise Williams is off to the NFL. Casual fans expecting a severe decline at the position, however, should familiarize themselves with Mitch Trubisky. The junior completed a staggering 85 percent of his throws limited reps a year ago. His maneuverability won’t make people forget Williams right away, but the deadly accuracy will certainly compensate for a less-than-sterling 40.
Trubisky stands to benefit from an incredibly talented collection of receivers, too. Seniors Bug Howard, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer are sure-handed and speedy. Don’t dismiss Elijah Hood’s ability to catch the rock coming out of the backfield, either. Fedora’s frenetic tempo means plenty of chances to feed the pigskin to both the Charlotte native and valuable reserve T.J. Logan in space.
Up front, North Carolina boasts four returning starters. Left guard Caleb Peterson and right tackle Jon Heck represent particularly immovable objects. Yet the entire O-line deserves recognition. To wit: The 2015 Tar Heels averaged 5.96 yards per carry and allowed an ACC-best 1.1 sacks a contest.
While Chris Kapilovic’s unit thrives in every imaginable facet, Gene Chizik’s crowd remains a major work in progress. UNC ranked at or near the bottom of the Coastal Division in sacks and third-down stops in the former Auburn coach’s first go-around as D-coordinator. The Bears also gouged Chizik’s troops for a humiliating 645 yards rushing in that bowl affair.
Who steps up, then, in advance of the Sept. 3 opener vs. Georgia? There’s not a Julius Peppers clone loitering around the upstairs dining hall, so we’re referring to a collective effort in terms of shoring up at least some of the chief bugaboos. Ends Dajaun Drennon and tackle Nazair Jones figure to be the headliners, but too many underclassmen must assume significant roles in the front-four rotation.
At linebacker, Andre Smith and Cayson Collins lead an athletic, if raw, group. The secondary appears slightly more secure, especially with safety Donnie Miles handling strong safety responsibilities. Not only did Miles just notch a team-high 128 tackles, he relishes the opportunity to improve in coverage. Corners M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence already excel in said department.
Any examination of UNC, though, is incomplete without a look at that all-important third phase. Switzer has returned seven punts for touchdowns during his career, one short of the NCAA record. That sort of X-factor gives Fedora a substantial leg up on the competition. While a tougher schedule could prevent another 11-W campaign, nine seems wholly attainable.
SUNDAY COLLEGE FOOTBALL FREE PICK: NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS OVER 8.5 WINS