A program the caliber of UNC will always have high expectations, and even if it is not a top-25 ranking this season, many see the Larry Fedora’s team as a strong contender within the ACC. And even though they have failed to reach their goals the past few years, this could be the year that the Tar Heels have their best opportunity at achieving a high-quality season.
In order for the Tar Heels to finally achieve their goals, they desperately need their defensive play to improve. It is no secret that in 2014, UNC did not have a good defense at all. UNC ranked 116th in the country in terms of points per game, 104th in defensive efficiency, and 122nd in 3rd down percentage rate. It was truly a disappointing campaign for them, and it was a huge reason why UNC struggled to get anything going. This year, however, they brought in Gene Chizik to turn things around on the defensive side of the field. Chizik coached Auburn to a national title in 2010, and is one of the better defensive minds in college football. For a team that struggled immensely last year on defense and lost three starters along with a handful of other important players, a new defensive system might be just what is required to do the trick. With Chizik’s guidance, UNC should see some steady improvement from the beginning of the season, when they will be put to the test with a matchup against South Carolina to kick things off. The Gamecock’s boasted one of last year’s best offenses, so it will definitely be interesting to see how things unfold for the new coach and scheme at Carolina.
Offensively, North Carolina should be strong this year. With the exception of one game in 2014, UNC ‘s offense played remarkably well. This offense, which averaged over 33 points per game a year ago, remains largely intact heading into this season. UNC’s ground attack this year is led by TJ Logan, Elijah Hood, and multiple others who will all see plenty of touches in Fedora’s system. A talented backfield should lead to a strong, up-tempo, high-scoring offense for another year. Alongside the ground game is talented WR/return man Ryan Switzer, who had a bit of a down year in 2014, but excelled as a returner in 2013. Switzer is a valuable weapon for UNC, and his presence on the field gives the Heels big play ability that can be extremely useful in such a fast-paced game. Keeping in mind each weapon that UNC will have on the field, the time has come to evaluate the Tar Heels key to the season: QB Marquise Williams. Williams is going into his senior year, and has shown the capability to be one of the better quarterbacks in the FBS over the last few years. A large portion of UNC’s struggles to perform last year can be attributed to his injury-riddled season. Williams has a very real chance at having the best season of his career, and if he can throw together an injury-free season in which he reaches his full potential, he can lead UNC to a season where it finally reaches expectations.
This is a make or break season in Chapel Hill. With its star player going into his final year with the program, North Carolina has the ability to finally assert itself as a formidable contender in the ACC Coastal. UNC does not have a necessarily challenging schedule this year – helped by the fact that they play in the weaker half of the ACC (avoiding matchups with powerhouses Florida State and Clemson), and they should be able to take advantage of this. Gene Chizik’s defensive prowess should enhance the one half of the field that must be improved, and a full season from Marquise Williams can in no way hurt Carolina’s chances. While UNC will not contend for a National Championship, it is certainly feasible that this team can finally emerge from the mediocrity that has plagued them in recent years. While, again, UNC could completely underperform and end with a .500 record again, there is a clear path for the Heels to improve upon recent years.
Prediction time: North Carolina will finish the regular season with a strong record of 7-5, with the possibility of reaching 8-4 if they can pull off an upset over Georgia Tech, Miami, or even South Carolina. Things look good for UNC going into the season, but it will be difficult for them to put a stop to the average years of the past.