The ACC media picked the Tar Heels to finish 3rd in the ACC this coming season. They were picked behind Clemson and Florida State and would have been picked to win the Coastal, if division were still active. There are many reasons why UNC can outperform these expectations, as well as multiple reasons they can fall on their face as well. This is the dichotomy of UNC football.
Reasons they can win the ACC
- Drake Maye: Maye started 2023 where he left off in 2022. He was named ACC pre-season player of the year and 1st all ACC pre-season, this coming on the heels of him sweeping the individual player awards in the ACC last season. Maye is considered by many NFL scouts to be, at worst, the second best QB in the class, and a lock to be a top 10 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.
- Explosive Offense: Not only do the Heels have one of the best QBs in the country, but they also had one of the most explosive offenses in the country last season, finishing in the top 25 in scoring, passing and total offense. Maye returns, as does eight other starters from last season.
- Improved Defense: The Tar Heel defense struggled last season but are entering season two of Gene Chizik’s 2nd stint in Chapel Hill. They will return eight starters off last year’s defense, that only has one way to go.
Reasons they can fall flat
- Schedule: Carolina was done no favors by the ACC scheduling gods. They will play five of the top seven teams in the preseason poll, missing only themselves and Florida State. This will include trips to Pitt, NC state, and Clemson.
- Poor Defense: The UNC defense is entering year two of the Chizik era, but year one was abysmal. The defense finished bottom of the ACC in most major defensive categories. They also lost three starters from last season’s secondary.
- Changes on offense: The Heels may return nine starters, but the two they lost were their two leading receivers and both were taken in last spring’s NFL draft. The biggest loss for Carolina was their offensive coordinator, Phil Longo, moving to Wisconsin. They brought in Chip Lindsey, and it will be interesting to see how quickly the players gel with the new scheme.
The Tar Heels have entered the season with a dynamite quarterback and high expectations before, and promptly fell on their face. I don’t think they will struggle as much as they did that season, but the conference still goes through Clemson, and the Heels will have to show that they can play with the big boys.