When Marvin Austin decided to spurn potential NFL riches last year and instead return to Chapel Hill for his senior season, the All-ACC defensive tackle did so with a purpose.
Austin spoke of unfinished business at Carolina.
He wanted to return to campus and leave Carolina with a bowl win, and the recruiting class he came in with four years ago.
Those aspirations now may never even have the chance to be realized.
North Carolina head coach Butch Davis suspended Austin indefinitely on Wednesday for violating unspecified team rules.
Austin has been in the thick of two recent investigations, one involving an NCAA probe into illegal contact with an agent, and the other involving academic improprieties that the University reported when it became aware of possible misconduct.
Davis said this suspension isn’t due to either one of those investigations.
“This decision is not a result of the ongoing NCAA review,” Davis said in a statement. “Marvin has violated team rules and has neglected his responsibilities to the team.”
Austin isn’t alone in either case.
Wide receiver Greg Little has been questioned regarding a trip he took with Austin to Miami this summer, allegedly funded by an agent, and numerous Carolina players are involved with the academic allegations.
School officials reported that there may have been some misconduct involving a former tutor, and it is believed that the tutor, who used to work privately for Davis’ family, wrote papers for players.
Now, two days away from Carolina’s opening game against LSU, Davis still hasn’t released a depth chart.
Neither Davis nor the players were available for a previously scheduled media session on Wednesday, but more suspension news is expected to come on Friday before the team travels to Atlanta for Saturday night’s game.
Austin won’t be the only Tar Heel not playing this weekend, but his absence is the only one that has been verified.
So what does this mean for Carolina?
It means that there is going to be a gaping hole in the middle of Carolina’s defensive front regardless of who fills in for Austin; he’s simply irreplaceable.
Austin had 42 tackles and four sacks last year, and he clogged the middle of the field for the Tar Heels. Teams couldn’t pound the football up the middle because they would be playing into Austin’s hands.
But more than that, Austin played with a high motor and was a leader of the defense. As a projected first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, his talent is obvious.
But take the energy and the attitude off the field that Austin brings to Carolina, and the affects could run deeper than just one guy.
Davis has a couple of options for Austin’s replacement, but the problem is that he doesn’t fully know who will be available and who will not be available in Week 1. There will be other holes to fill, not just Austin’s.
As of today, however, Davis could put Austin’s backup, junior Jordan Nix, into a full-time starting role or he could pluck defensive tackle Tydreke Powell’s backup, redshirt freshman Jared McAdoo, and put him in Austin’s spot.
McAdoo was expected to get some playing time this year behind the two starters, but what if he is involved with the academic probe? What if Nix finds his way into the mess?
And that’s why the humidity is a little stickier in Chapel Hill than other college towns throughout the South. There’s just so many unknowns.
Carolina is reportedly discussing rolling suspensions with the NCAA, a tactic that would allow them to sit players on various weekends but not all at once.
If the NCAA says no to that, then UNC may be looking at as many as 16 players not making the trip to Atlanta.
What makes all of this so painful for Carolina is that the program had an actual shot to make good on the unfinished business Austin spoke about months ago.
UNC came in at #18 in the preseason poll, and returned 19 starters this year, the most in the ACC.
Hopes were high in Chapel Hill and expectations for this team were even higher.
Carolina thought it could potentially compete for an ACC title and find its way into a BCS bowl game.
Phil Steele, author of the widely popular college football preview magazine, called the Tar Heels a “darkhorse National Title contender.”
Well, not anymore.
Not if Marvin Austin and other impact players are relegated to watching this year like the rest of us.
Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at email@example.com.