North Carolina Football: 5 Dream Scenarios for 2011
The University of North Carolina's football team had long been considered a doormat in the rising ACC. They had suffered consistent losing seasons, and had long been an afterthought to their basketball program.
Enter Butch Davis.
After years of recruiting solid athletes into the program, the Tar Heels finished last season with a mark of 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl 30-27 against the Tennessee Volunteers.
After losing longtime starting quarterback T.J. Yates, the Tar Heels will be counting on some unproven players to build on the success.
The NCAA investigation also aims to be a distraction that will erode preparation and focus, so only time will tell.
Here are five dream scenarios for the Tar Heels for the 2011 season:
1. Erik Highsmith Emerges as 2nd WR
One of the questions headed into the 2011 season, WR Erik Highsmith will be depended upon to step up as a second game-changing receiver opposite Dwight Jones.
Whomever takes over for the departed T.J. Yates at quarterback will be dependent on Jones and the other receivers to have reliable hands in big situations.
Highsmith will be depended on to make the tough catch to keep drives alive and keep the offense balanced.
Any combination of Jones and any other receiver on the roster to create a 1-2 punch will help take the pressure off the next starting quarterback for Butch Davis.
2. Ryan Houston Steps in as Starting Running Back
After sitting the first five games last season due to an NCAA investigation—and subsequently deciding to redshirt the entire year once he was cleared to play—senior Ryan Houston will be depended on to be the featured back in Carolina's backfield.
A former 4-star recruit from Matthews, North Carolina, Houston did not have any carries in 2010 and after the departure of Shaun Draughn, Johnny White and Anthony Elzy. However, he will be asked to carry most of the load in the running game.
The Tar Heels hope that Houston can regain the form that merited him being a 4-star recruit, in order to help them compensate for the loss of numerous offensive pieces from a year ago.
If Houston can provide balance to the Heels' offensive attack, then the Tar Heels should be able to compete against any defense in the ACC.
3. Quinton Coples Becomes a Force in the ACC
Quinton Coples broke out last year after several of his teammates became the target of an NCAA investigation that still runs to this day.
A monster at defensive end and listed at 6'6", Coples finished last season with 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
A lot was made after Coples was photographed at a NFL draft party with former teammates Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn in D.C. Coples has since been cleared by the NCAA and is getting set for the 2011 campaign.
Here is what Coples said about his tendency to get double-teamed according to USA Today:
"I was double-teamed sometimes and even triple-teamed in some games last year, but I didn't mind making sacrifices for the team," Coples says. "If I could free up somebody else to make a play by taking on two or three guys, that was fine."
Sounds like a team player to me.
4. Keep Butch Davis as Head Football Coach
The former University of Miami and Cleveland Browns coach has had a profound impact on the Tar Heels' program.
Butch Davis has brought the perennial ACC doormat up from the depths of irrelevance and has put them in position to contend for a division title with the addition of a few more key pieces.
North Carolina competes with Miami, Clemson, Boston College and the other heavyweights of the ACC on a yearly basis. Contending in the rapidly rising division only known for it's basketball prowess is no easy task.
Winning the bowl game last season has likely bought Davis another year to prove that his methods are indeed working, and I believe that he should be given every opportunity to build on that success.
Changing head coaches while they are implementing their methods has often proven to be costly, but then there have been some that have stayed on way past their time (see Charlie Weis in Notre Dame).
5. The Program Will Get Through the NCAA Investigation
A distraction that has the potential to be crippling for team chemistry, the Tar Heels' football program is under investigation by the NCAA for alleged contact with agents and numerous players receiving improper benefits.
The investigation centers on former Tar Heel Marvin Austin and his numerous Twitter posts pointing to questionable behavior.
Also under investigation by the NCAA was the coaching staff and their relationships with agents. Under the microscope in particular was defensive line coach John Blake and how he allegedly received money from them to put the agents in contact with players.
Thirteen players were suspended for the opening game of last season, and Butch Davis expects a quick resolution to the case when the university presents its side of the story to the NCAA on October 28th.
This sure seems to be the year of big-name colleges shedding skeletons from their closets eh?