North Carolina Tar Heels Are College Football's 2011 Dark Horse Title Contender

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IMay 7, 2011

Coach Butch Davis has built a team that's capable of making some major noise this season
Coach Butch Davis has built a team that's capable of making some major noise this seasonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When college football’s various preseason polls come out this summer, you would have to expect that most will feature teams such as Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU and Stanford near the top of the rankings.

As we’ve seen in recent years though, preseason polls are about as useful as Derek Jeter, batting with men in scoring position.

Sure, we all know that Oklahoma is stacked this year but we’ve also learned that having to carry the weight of being the country’s top target week in and week out can take a tremendous toll on a team.

Alabama couldn’t handle it last year, Florida wasn’t equipped to do the job in 2009 and many other so-called preseason favorites have stumbled in recently.

In 2010, we watched both Auburn and Oregon, two teams that were ranked outside the top ten to begin the year, work their way up the ladder, all the way to the national game.

It has to make you wonder if there is an off-the-radar kind of team that is capable of making a similar unforeseen move this season.

One team that looks like it could fit the mold is North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have been forced to deal with plenty of stressful drama this past year with suspensions, firings and numerous allegations running though the program like a wildfire since last September.

The team appeared to be ready to challenge for the ACC crown last season but devastating suspensions to key players such as DE Robert Quinn and DT Marvin Austin weakened their resolve and they ended up finishing with a modest 8-5 overall record.

Last year’s trials and tribulations very well could have strengthened North Carolina for the future, as many role players were given the chance to develop in the wake of all the suspensions to key starters.

Considering three out of four of North Carolina’s top 2011 draft picks didn’t even play a down last season, it doesn’t seem like their loss will be all that impactful.

When looking at this Tar Heel team, it’s easy to spot some of the emerging stars such as DE Quinton Coples, a future first round draft pick, WR Dwight Jones, who made his presence felt in place of Greg Little, and LB Kevin Reddick, who led the team in tackles.  

The real story, however, is at the quarterback position where Bryn Renner, a highly talented former four star recruit, takes over for the departed T.J. Yates.

Renner may not have much game experience under his belt but he’s got the tools and the skills to develop into an elite starting signal caller this season.

The 6’3’’ 195 lb. redshirt sophomore created a lot of buzz with his performance this spring and he could be a player that will be ready break out once September rolls around.

Renner will have plenty of weapons at his disposal, as he’ll have one of the best receiving corps in the country to throw to.

Arkansas is the only other team in America that has a receiving trio that could match what North Carolina is going to put out on the field this year.

Dwight Jones, Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd, who combined for over 100 catches least season, look like an unstoppable combination that will put some massive pressure on opposing secondaries this year.

After the departures of Johnny White and Shaun Draughn,  the running back situation will need to be figured out. But whoever ends up lining up in the backfield should have some nice holes to run through courtesy of All-ACC caliber linemen, Jonathan Cooper and James Hurst.

The offense should produce enough points but it’s the defense that’s really going to be the story of this team.

There’s NFL talent sprinkled all over the unit and North Carolina is set to have one of the strongest defensive front sevens in the country.

Defensive Linemen Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell and Donte Paige-Moss are all future high round draft picks and linebackers Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick will be pros one day as well.

With so much premier talent throughout the depth chart, you have to believe that North Carolina is going to be a factor in the ACC championship race.  And you can’t count them out of the national title hunt, regardless of where they’re ranked when the season begins.

Coach Butch Davis has done a great job of bringing in top talent these past few years and if Davis can keep his team focused, the Tar Heels have a shot to really make some noise on the national scene.

With only five road games on the docket, the schedule isn’t exactly overbearing,

The key to the team’s success will be Renner, who is absolutely oozing with potential.

We know the Tar Heel defense is going to be lights out but it’s going to be up to Renner to find his talented targets on a consistent basis.

If the offense can put up the points, North Carolina is going to be one of the most dangerous teams in America this season and they have a chance to make a big run up the rankings. 

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