Part of our Football Countdown is to preview each opponent for the Jackets. You can read the rest of the opponents here.
Talk about in-season improvement. UNC started 1-5, and then won 5 games in a row to qualify for a bowl game, which they won vs Cincinnati. They did face a very tough schedule to start with games at South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Poly, and at home vs Miami in their first 6 games. Combine that with some injuries on defense and losing longtime starter Bryn Renner and UNC really struggled to get out the gate. But after re-tooling their offense around the more mobile Marquise Williams they were able to have some success on Offense and got some huge help from Special Teams Lightening Bolt Ryan Switzer, who had 5 punt return touchdowns in the 2nd half of the season. They actually played above average in 11 of their 12 games, but never put it together against teams that were of higher quality than them, according to Bill C's excellent preview.
Who is Gone?
All American TE/WR Eric Ebron went in the first round to the Lions (because they need more offense, clearly) and they had 4 other players drafted: Kareem Martin (DE in 3rd round), Russell Bodine (C in the 4th), Tre Boston (S in the 4th), and Jabari Price (CB in the 7th). They also lost starters Tim Jackson (DT), James Hurst (LT), and Bryn Renner (QB). That is a lot of production between Renner and Ebron, and the secondary is not only losing their top two players but also the number one pass rusher along the line. In addition they have to replace 76 career starts between Bodine and Hurst. I don't know of any major transfers, but they undoubtedly lost some key pieces.
Expected Changes From Last Year?
No major coaching changes were made in the offseason. There shouldn't be too big of a change offensively considering Marquise Williams started the last half of the year anyway, but expect the offense to noticeably change towards taking advantage of his running ability and the talented running backs at their disposal. In addition they should try to put the ball in Ryan Switzer's hand much more often this year. There's no reason to expect significant changes on Defense.
Elijah Hood is a 5 star running back from Charlotte that has great size already for a college freshman. While UNC has a decent stable of running backs, I would expect him to compete for playing time in fall camp.
The Tar Heels also signed four other 4-stars including two offensive linemen and a linebacker.
QB Marquise Williams: Last year in 7 games as a full-time starter, the will-be junior threw for just under 1700 yards and ran for another 560 yards. He is still not the sure starter but if he is then expect some big plays here and there.
RB T.J. Logan: Only a Freshman last year, Logan still rushed for over 500 yards at nearly 5.7 YPC. Expect the carries to increase and for Logan to be featured more in the offense as a sophomore.
WR Ryan Switzer: Dude had FIVE special teams touchdowns last year. (Are you kidding me? That's awesome.) As a college football fan, I hope UNC figures out a way to get this kid the ball in space more often on offense. As a Tech fan, I hope they don't figure out how to do that until after our game.
DE/LB Norkeithus Otis: UNC returns players who had a combined 10.5 sacks last year, and Otis represents 8 of those. It will be tough for Otis to vastly improve upon the 8 sacks and 14 Tackles for Loss he had last year with Kareem Martin gone on the other side, but expect him to make some plays in the backfield.
??: Somebody in the secondary will need to replace the production lost in the secondary. I'm not sure UNC knows who that will be at this point, and I sure as heck know that I don't.
UNC opens up with three winnable games before a brutal 4 game stretch; At Clemson, VPI at home, At Notre Dame, and GT at home. If UNC can figure out how to replace their lost production before then they could do some damage in the ACC. But if the Tar Heels hit a rough stretch and are to lose those 4 games, then bowl eligibility becomes the struggle over the last 5 games, all against conference opponents. UNC has a ton of young players who could make a big improvement, and has recruited very well compared to the rest of the ACC (Other than FSU and Clemson). Will this year be the year it all comes together? I'm not sure.