In June of 2010, NCAA officials became concerned about a party in Miami that several North Carolina football players had attended.
They were even more concerned about how they got there.
The investigators began interviewing players last July. This eventually led to Robert Quinn and Greg Little being ruled indefinitely ineligible for accepting improper benefits, and to Marvin Austin being dismissed from the team due to the same and other violations.
Despite high hopes and expectations for a BCS bowl-type season, Carolina faltered without its star athletes and claimed an 8-5 record. The Tar Heels battled, but could not come away on top in big games—the presence of Quinn, Little and Austin was greatly missed. It was the year of what could have been.
However, 2010 is over with and in the past. It's a new dawn, a new day and new life for the boys in baby blue.
And they're feelin' good.
North Carolina returns just five starters on offense, but sophomore Bryn Renner is expected to take over the quarterback position for T.J. Yates.
Although he didn't see the field much in 2010, Renner has proved he has what it takes to play in the ACC. He has outstanding accuracy and can thread the needle, but is at his best when throwing the deep ball. At 6'3", Renner stands tall in the pocket and his legs give him the option to take it on the ground.
Opposing offenses are going to have a tough time keeping up with what looks to be a superior Tar Heel defense in 2011. 10 starters return for UNC, including the entire defensive line and secondary.
Six seniors and two juniors are expected to start on a very experienced Carolina defense.
Looking solid, right? The Heels are bound to have a successful season, but what's the worst thing that could happen?
Let's take a look.
North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples has recently been interviewed by an NCAA investigator about his participation at a Washington, D.C., post-draft party. Former Tar Heels Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn were present.
The 6'6", 275-pound Coples had 13 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as a junior last season. He is rated the No. 2 draft-eligible player in the nation by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.
The NCAA is trying to figure out how Coples paid for his travel, who paid for his hotel, and if he accepted any free food or drink at the party.
Marvin Austin missed all of last season after being dismissed by the Tar Heels for what could end up being the same NCAA violations.
There is the possibility that Coples would be nailed with a suspension or even kicked off the team. This would be a huge blow to the Carolina defense.
The Tar Heels have been blessed with a relatively easy schedule in 2011.
However, they do play a tough home game against Miami (FL) and go on the road to battle Clemson, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech.
Each of these games will be a true test of the integrity and endurance of the UNC squad, and will take every bit of precise performance to win.
And they are all very winnable games.
UNC has beaten the Hurricanes three out of the last four seasons. Miami QB Jacory Harris is 53 of 88 (60.2 percent) with 575 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions against North Carolina, with a 1-1 record as the starter.
Winning in Death Valley won't be an easy task. Clemson returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense in hopes of improving on its lowly 2010 campaign. UNC came away victorious (21-16) in last season's matchup.
North Carolina State beat the Tar Heels in the rivalry game last year. However, QB Russell Wilson has decided to take his talents to Madison and will be joining the Wisconsin Badgers. The Wolfpack's 18th-ranked passing offense will be taking a major hit.
Virginia Tech will undoubtedly be explosive in 2011. But will the loss of star quarterback Tyrod Taylor water down the Hokies' offense?
Assuming North Carolina loses to the previously stated set of teams, an 8-4 (4-4 ACC) overall regular season record would land it somewhere along the lines of the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.
And according to the Military Bowl's website, this would set up an interesting game against Navy.
The Midshipmen put together a 9-4 record in 2010—their eighth straight eight-plus win season. As usual, they had an outstanding feel for the rushing game, averaging 284.8 yards per contest on the ground.
Navy's defense was adequate, as it allowed 23.3 points per game (17.8 against teams with winning records).
The Midshipmen return eight starters on offense and five on defense, but will have to replace the outstanding abilities of QB Ricky Dobbs and fullback Vince Murray.
Eight wins and a matchup against Navy isn't exactly what North Carolina fans are looking for this season, but UNC has a very good chance of surpassing this number.
Hey, it could be worse, right?