The return of the Mack has been more successful than even the biggest Tar Heel homer could have imagined. Back-to-back bowl trips, back-to-back top 15 ranked recruiting classes, and sixteen returning starters have the Heels ready to cement themselves as the Coastal favorite for the near future, and possibly provide Clemson with a strong challenger.
Key Returning Players
If I asked you which ACC QB has the record for most touchdowns in his first two years you would guess Jameis Winston, Deshaun Watson, or maybe Trevor Lawrence, but all of those would be incorrect. Howell has 68 touchdown passes in his first two years in Chapel Hill. He was the triggerman for an offense that scored a touchdown on 43.4 percent of their drives in 2020. The biggest question for Howell will be how quickly he can build a relationship with the young skill players he will have around him.
The media discussion about the Heels this offseason has been about all the personnel losses on the offensive side of the ball. These losses were at the skill positions, the Heels return all five starters from an offensive line that helped average 6.5 yards per rush last season. The top six returning linemen have a combined 112 career starts. There is room for improvement, this line gave up almost three sacks a game last season.
Fox brothers may mean smoked meats in Atlanta, but in Chapel Hill it means quaterbacks getting smoked by the edge rushing bash brothers, Tomon and Tomari Fox. Tomon is a senior defensive end who led the Heels in tackles for loss, sacks, and quarterback pressures last season. Tomari is a junior coming off a productive season with six tackles for a loss and four sacks. The brothers will be anchors for what is a talented and deep defensive line.
Describing the Heels offense as explosive last season is an understatement. UNC’s offense went for ten or more yards on 30 percent of their snaps last season. The play of receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome were a catalyst for this incredible offensive production. Unfortunately, both players are now plying their trade in the NFL, Brown was a 3rd round pick to the Football Team and Newsome was a 6th round pick to the Bears. They leave some big shoes to fill. True freshman Joshua Downs was given an early chance to fill these shoes and put on a show vs Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, with 4 catches for 91 yards and 2 TDs. The Heels will look to talented youngsters to replace the production.
The running backs for UNC last year was a true two headed monster. Javonte Williams and Michael Carter both went for over 1000 yards, with Williams scoring an absurd 19 touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, much like the wide receivers, both guys are going to be playing on Sunday this fall, Williams was a 2nd round pick to the Broncos and Carter was a 4th rounder to the Jets. The Heels were to recruit one of the top transfer portal running backs, to try and fill the hole left. Ty Chandler put together a decent career as a Volunteer, averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Expect to see him shoulder the load early as UNC will try and work in some of their young talent.
Chazz Surratt has been one of the feel-good stories in college football. After, struggling as the starting quarterback for the Heels, he asked to make the move to linebacker and became and all-ACC level performer. He was able to translate this success in to being a 3rd round pick by the Vikings. Jeremiah Gemmel will be given the first chance to replace Chazz’s production, he finished 2rd in tackles last season to Surratt.
North Carolina has always been discussed as a sleeping giant. A program that if they got the right coach and built the right culture would have chance to become a major player in the college football landscape. They are not there yet but are trending in that direction. They were recently picked as the Coastal division favorite at ACC media day, and I don’t see any reason why the Coastal is not theirs for the taking. They miss playing Clemson in the regular season and get Miami and Virginia Tech at home. This is the season that the Heels really start to make their mark on college football.