Preview of the Tar Heels Season: Part I

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Preview of the Tar Heels Season: Part I
(Photo by: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

I’m ready for some tailgating, big helmet rattling hits, and New Year’s Day Bowl Games. I’m ready for some college football!  You just have to love it, but any fan will tell you the season is not as fun if your team is not winning.

Butch Davis has put together a team that can win, and that is shown by their No. 20 ranking in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Which games should the Heels win this year, and which ones would be a disappointment for them to lose? Here is a quick glance at the first four games of the UNC season.


The Citadel

The Bulldogs are members of the Southern Conference which is a Football Championship Series Conference, and they have been picked to finish sixth in the conference.

This should be an easy win for the Heels to start out the season.

The Citadel has a very proficient starting quarterback in Bart Blanchard. Blanchard threw for 2,436 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2008, but he also threw 11 picks.

More than half of those passing yards went to wide receiver Andre Roberts who in 2008 accumulated 1,334 yards with 14 touchdowns. Look for Blanchard to go to Roberts many times since he has much more experience and catches than anybody else on the team.

Overall, the Heels should dominate this game. It was put on the schedule to get an easy, early win, and that is exactly what the Heels should do.


Connecticut

The second game of the season will be tougher for the Heels, but they were able to beat a better Connecticut team last year (starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen was injured though) cruising to victory by a score of 38-12. With UNC looking improved this year they should win this game in similar fashion.

The Huskies only return six starters on defense and six more on offense. Randy Edsall lost much talent; including, running back Donald Brown who was selected No. 27 overall by the Colts.

Brown led the running game to be nationally ranked at No. 13 in yards, but this season Brown is playing on Sunday’s so they will have to use a more balanced attack on offense.

Quarterback Zack Fraser should be taking over the starting job since Tyler Lorenzen graduated. Fraser started last year against UNC due to Lorenzen’s injury. He threw for 210 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. 

His receivers will be inexperienced since they ran the ball so much last year, and I believe the Heels can exploit this causing havoc for the Connecticut offense.

If the UNC defense can get the defensive line and their fast linebackers pressuring Fraser he will not be able to find open targets down the field.  As long as they keep the running game in check, the UNC defense should be able to keep the Connecticut score low.

The Connecticut defense should have another solid year after finishing sixth nationally in yards allowed last season with 287 yards per game. Although, the Heels were able to put up 38 points last year against that defense, scoring a variety of ways.

In short, the Tar Heels should win this game with their strong defense, and an offense that will put up some points even against a strong Connecticut defense.


East Carolina

The season continues to get tougher for the Heels on September 19 when they matchup with another good North Carolina team.  This game will be a true test for Butch Davis and his team.

Skip Holtz had a very good team last year as they were ranked as high as No. 14 at one point. While not in the preseason top 25 this year, they will still be a solid team.

Returning will be Quarterback Patrick Pinkney (2,675 yards, 13 TDs) a senior bringing with him some experience. It is tough to face a good senior quarterback, but just like with Connecticut the Heels need to bring the pressure forcing him to get rid of the ball fast.

The Pirates have not settled on a running back yet, but they have two seniors (Dominique Lindsay and J.R. Rogers) vying for the spot with sophomore Brandon Jackson.

East Carolina has eight returning starters on offense and eight more on defense. This experience will be huge, but UNC can exploit positions such as running back.

The Pirates’ defense will be very good. They have juniors or seniors projected to start at every position except for strong safety, and they have a senior that could start there.

The bottom line is that this will be a tough game for the Heels, but I believe they will pull it out to start the season 3-0. 


Georgia Tech

September 26 takes the Heels to Atlanta for their ACC opener. The games continue to get tougher as this road game against Georgia Tech will be a big test for the Heels. 

On top of all of that, this game is pivotal since it is a game that pits two contenders for the ACC Coastal Division title. They will be the top two teams trying to knock Virginia Tech, Miami will also be in the mix, off the top of the tough Coastal Division.

In this game, we will see two very good teams hitting the gridiron. In the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll, Georgia Tech is ranked No. 15 while North Carolina is ranked at No. 20. Providing that both teams keep this ranking or move up the rankings this game will receive some much desired national attention.

Georgia Tech will have a very good offense with them in Atlanta. It starts with Tailback Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, who will be bringing his play-making ability right into the heart of the North Carolina team, the defense.

I perceive that this will be a good battle, and what the defense needs to do is keep him from getting the big yardage on any single carry. Dwyer rushed for 157 yards and one touchdown in this game last year, and the Heels need to get those numbers way down from that to win this game.

They also bring back their starting quarterback, Josh Nesbitt, who threw for 808 yards and two touchdowns last season. Quarterback is the position that UNC can exploit and get the upper hand.

Just like against Connecticut and East Carolina, if they can pressure Nesbitt they will take the passing game away, and then basically the main part of offense they will have to stop will be Dwyer. The Heels will have to keep him from taking over the game.

The Yellow Jackets return 17 starters, but have some key guys on the defensive line to replace. If the defensive line can be maintained by the Heels offensive line, Yates should be able to find open targets, and Draughn should be able to find plenty of open spaces.

Scoring points will be the way to beat this Georgia Tech team. They have some weaknesses up front on defense, and the Heels need to take advantage of that.

I predict this will be North Carolina’s first loss, but it will be a very close game. I will give the Yellow Jackets the upper hand because they are at home. This game could go either way though with a few big plays on either side.


Conclusion

After the first four games, I predict UNC will be 3-1 overall and 0-1 in the ACC. This record would not be cause to panic about their chances in the ACC because Georgia Tech will lose some games giving the Heels a chance with some big wins to finish second in the Coastal Division.

Most likely, they will need to beat Georgia Tech to have a shot at winning the Coastal Division.  The Heels would have two good win against Connecticut and East Carolina, and take those wins into the middle part of the season as positive wins to look back on. This will be an exciting start to the season, and it is time to play some football!

Look for the analysis of the rest of the season coming soon in Parts II and III.

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