Friday, June 9, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels
Even with Mitch Trubisky at QB last fall, and with a team that was largely though could waltz their way through the ACC Coastal, UNC still found a way to lose five games, win only eight, and somehow find a way to finish just second in one of the weakest divisions in Power Five football. I've never made a secret out of the fact that I am not a believer in Larry Fedora as head coach, but last year took the cake. The major issue is, in 2017, that Fedora does not have the weapons that he had last fall. How will this football team respond to a wasted opportunity and a lack of overall talent that existed a year ago?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
If you have to point to any one unit to be pumped about, it has to be the line, where at least three starters are returning. LT Bentley Spain, LG Tommy Hatton, and RG RJ Prince all return, and will probably, by far, be the best and most complete unit on the offensive side of the football. Mark Uptegraff will likely step into the starting Center role as a senior, and a pair of sophomores will battle it out at RT in William Sweet and Charlie Heck.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
One should be concerned about everything but most of the offensive line. There are few answers to go around as we head into fall camp, especially at QB, where Trubisky left for the NFL after just one season as a starter. Nathan Elliott, a sophomore in 2017, was solid in extremely limited duty, but Fedora has not stamped him with the starting role as we head towards camp, and there could be as many as four different QBs in the mix in camp, leaving the job as unsettled as it has ever been.
Elijah Hood and TJ Logan are both gone at RB, and they take 1538 yards and 15 TDs of production out the door with them. Again, there was no clear answer coming out of spring ball at this position, and the most experienced returning back is Jordan Brown, who rushed 20 times for just 45 yards last season.
Austin Proehl is the lone returning starting WR, and he caught 43 passes last fall. That said, Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer are both gone, and they combined for 149 receptions and over 1900 yards last fall. Those losses are not easily replaced. Thomas Jackson and Jordan Cunningham could be the replacements there, but they combined for all of 23 receptions last fall. Don't expect much help from the TE position, either. Carl Tucker and Brandon Fitts combined for 15 receptions and just two TDs last fall.
PK Nick Weller, who hit 15/21 FGs last fall, is also gone, leaving a scoring void where it may be most needed with a young and developing offense.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The LB corps should be rather good this fall, as the unit returns intact. Cole Holcomb is back at WILL, Andre Smith is back at MIKE, and Cayson Collins is back at SAM. Holcomb and Smith combined for 228 tackles last fall, while Collins added another 60. This unit is not known to apply much pressure up front, however, and they may need to go in that direction to supplant major losses up front on the line. All three backups from the bowl game all return as well.
The Punting game should be in good hands, as sophomore Tom Sheldon returns. He averaged 42.68 yards per punt last season as a freshman.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The front line should not be questioned, but they lost their biggest moving part in Nazair Jones early to the NFL draft. DE Mikey Bart also departs, leaving 14.5 total TFLS between the two off of the field. Jones also accounted for 70 tackles last season. Jason Strowbridge is looking like the most likely replacement for Bart, while Jeremiah Clarke, a junior, could step in for Jones.
The secondary is also being forced to replace half of their starters. CB Des Lawrence and FS Dominique Green have both departed, leaving more gaping holes. CB and NB MJ Stewart will be back, as will SS Donnie Miles. Stewart did manage to collect 11 PBUs, but this unit, as a while in 2016, picked off just one pass all season long. That cannot become a trend yet again in 2017.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 California, 9/9 Louisville, 9/16 at Old Dominion, 9/23 Duke, 9/30 at Georgia Tech, 10/7 Notre Dame, 10/14 Virginia, 10/21 at Virginia Tech, 10/28 Miami, 11/9 at Pittsburgh, 11/18 Western Carolina, 11/25 at NC State
This could be a long season for UNC fans across the board. There are far to omany open ended questions, specifically on offense, for me to really lay down a ton of belief that this club can compete in the ACC in 2017. The schedule is more difficult than it may look on paper, which does not help matters. If this team fell short last season, when they had more weapons, I cannot see this team rising above that mark this fall, nor can I see it getting close to that. This has all of the makings of a complete upcoming mess.