What a season for North Carolina in 2015.
After years of mediocrity, the Tar Heels finally broke through in a big way and ended the season ranked for the first time in over a decade. If not for a gut-wrenching loss in the season opener against South Carolina, UNC would have likely made it to a New Year’s Six bowl, but instead had to settle for a Russell Athletic Bowl appearance against Baylor.
This season, Larry Fedora and crew must try to create the same offensive production that brought it so much success last year.
2015 Record: 11-3 SU, 8-6 ATS, 8-6 O/U
2016 Regular Season Win Total: 9
National Championship Odds: +13500
Odds to win ACC: +1600
Marquise Williams was the maestro that made it happen last season and after struggling against South Carolina in the opener, was sensational the remainder of the season. Williams and the Tar Heels didn’t score less than 26 points after the opening loss and filled the stat sheet. He completed over 60 percent of his passes for 3072 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while also rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns. UNC averaged 7.3 yards per play last season and Williams’ playmaking ability was a big reason why.
Elijah Hood put up some of the best numbers in the conference last season and won First Team All-ACC honors because of it. Hood carried the ball for 1463 yards with 17 touchdowns and was able to salt games away late with his pounding running style. He broke the 100-yard mark eight times and more importantly, averaged at least 4.1 yards per carry in every game against an FBS opponent.
As good as the offense was last season, the defense was tremendously underrated considering what Gene Chizik did with the unit. North Carolina averaged 39 PPG and almost 500 yards per game the season prior, but Chizik found immediate success with his defense. The Tar Heels allowed just 24.5 PPG last season and the pass defense gave up under 200 yards per game. The defense was embarrassed at the end of the season against Baylor, allowing 645 yards on the ground, but had a great year in conference play.
The biggest question mark will be whether or not Mitch Trubisky can replicate Marquise Williams’ production. Trubisky recorded most of his numbers in 2015 against FCS Delaware, but saw action in nine games and will at least have some experience. He was a highly rated quarterback coming out of high school and has shown he has the ability to flourish in Fedora’s system. He likely won’t be the same player as Williams was, but there should not be a drastic drop-off from last year’s numbers either.
Hood’s return will help Trubisky as he establishes himself in the starter’s role. Fedora rotates backs enough that he will have fresh legs late in games, but Hood may be leaned on early. Hood doesn’t have the top-end speed that leads to long touchdowns, his longest run in ACC play was 39 yards, but he can consistently pick up five or six yards a carry. If he can catch the ball out of the backfield that will make him even more of a threat.
The receiving corps should help Trubisky out as well. Ryan Switzer is a speed demon that can juke defenders out of their shoes and Mack Hollins is a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. Switzer led the team in receptions and also returned two punts for touchdowns, while Hollins averaged 24.8 yards per reception.
Many experts are predicting North Carolina to take a step back and not defend its ACC Coastal title in 2015. The team faces difficult road games against both Florida State and Miami and the schedule is front-loaded. UNC’s first four conference games are against Florida State and the other three teams seen as its biggest rivals for the division title and if Trubisky doesn’t play well early, the Tar Heels can be in trouble. Still, this squad should definitely make a bowl and contend for another trip to the conference title game.
North Carolina brings back four of its five offensive linemen from last season and that should be good for Elijah Hood. Hood is one of the best running backs in the conference and he can have a big season in Chapel Hill. If he gets to 300 carries, he could have an 1800-yard season and should contend for all-conference honors.
Defensively, the secondary is the strength of the team. Both MJ Stewart and Desmond Lawrence were selected Second Team All-ACC last season and they were great at breaking up passes. Stewart and Lawrence each broke up 14 passes and made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. These cornerbacks aren’t just good in coverage either, they are great tacklers as well and can wrap up receivers without allowing big gains.
Week 1: vs. Georgia, Saturday, September 3, 5:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Week 2: at Illinois, Saturday, September 10, 7:30 p.m. ET BTN
Week 3: vs. James Madison, Saturday, September 17, 3:30 p.m. ET, TBD
Week 4: vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday, September 24, TBD
Week 5: at Florida State, Saturday, October 1, TBD
Week 6: vs. Virginia Tech, Saturday, October 8, TBD
Week 7: at Miami, Saturday, October 15, TBD
Week 8: at Virginia, Saturday, October 22, TBD
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: vs. Georgia Tech, Saturday, November 5, TBD
Week 11: at Duke, Thursday, November 10, 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Week 12: vs. The Citadel, Saturday, November 19, TBD
Week 13: vs. NC State, Friday, November 25, TBD
|SEC Conference||Big 10 Conference|
|ACC Conference||Big 12 Conference|
|Pac 12 Conference||Big East Conference|
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