Countdown to Kickoff: 30 days
As our 100 Days to Kickoff continues on, we begin our opponent previews to provide a quick look at each of the teams coming up on our schedule this season. Each team has changed and provides new challenges than in years past, so this week is all about learning about those changes and learning exactly what the ACC has to offer.
2016 Opponent Previews – UNC Tar Heels
The Tar Heels enter 2016 with high expectations as the defending Coastal Division champions. They finished last season with an 11-3 record, went undefeated in conference play, and took Clemson to the wire in the ACC Championship Game. However, their season ended with them getting pasted by a quarterback-less Baylor team in the Russell Athletic Bowl. They also still have argyle on their football uniforms.
The biggest loss will be 3-year starter Marquise Williams at quarterback. Williams seemed to finally put it all together last season, averaging 8 yards per pass attempt and 7.4 yards per carry, albeit against an incredibly weak schedule.
Also on the offensive side, the Heels lose WR Quinshad Davis, who was Williams’ favorite target on the outside, and right guard Landon Turner, who was 1st Team All-ACC and All-American.
On defense, UNC loses 2 starting linebackers in Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer, but return almost everyone else up front and in the secondary.
Outside of their linebackers, the Heels return most of their defense, including four of five defensive backs. In the secondary, they return both corners in Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart, who combined for six interceptions and 28 pass break-ups. Their secondary should be a strength, barring injury.
On offense, they return QB Mitch Trubisky, who backed up Williams the previous 2 years. In mop-up duty, he’s completed a ridiculous 85% of his passes. After 2 years as a backup and a spring under his belt as starter, replacing Williams may not be the chore most fans think it will be. Also helping the transition to the new QB is that the Heels retain almost every skill position player heading into 2016.
Oh, and one of them is 5-star RB Elijah Hood who rushed for 6.7 yards/carry and 17 touchdowns last season.
With so many starters returning on both sides of the ball, perhaps the newest face on the field will be incumbent QB Mitch Trubisky. After Williams’ 3 years as UNC’s starter, seeing a different face at QB this season will certainly be new to both the Heels and opposing teams.
Also Of Note
Trubisky is listed at 6’3”, which is an inch taller than his predecessor at quarterback. Hopefully the added inch of height will help prevent defensive players from getting ejected for targeting when they wrap him up in a form tackle without leading with their helmet.
While UNC returns most of their Coastal Division-winning squad from a season ago, the schedule gets considerably tougher with the additions of Florida State to the conference schedule and uga opening weekend. For whatever reason, UNC will still play two FCS schools again this year, so they will need seven wins to reach bowl eligibility.
The Coastal Division also saw head coaching turnover and upgrades at Virginia Tech, Miami, and Virginia, which may pay immediate dividends for those schools and make this schedule even tougher.
Chizik’s defense didn’t really stop anyone last season, ranking 122nd in rushing yards allowed per game, and 96th overall. Did we mention they gave up 645 rushing yards in their bowl game to a Baylor team who quite literally didn’t have a quarterback? So... there’s room for improvement there.
Anything less than a division title would be a disappointment for the media-favored Tar Heels, but with a tougher schedule and tougher division, I don’t see it happening this year.
Regular season prediction: 8-4