Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
W-L: 8-4 (5-3)
Top Offensive Performer: Giovani Bernard, RB
Top Defensive Performer: Kevin Reddick, LB
After a very encouraging 2011 season, 2012 was supposed to be the year that UNC put it all together and finally won the Coastal division. And technically, they did. But due to a postseason ban, the school was not allowed to play for the ACC title, nor win the Coastal division. When looking at head coach Larry Fedora’s first year on the job though, it’s tough to argue that the Heels’ season was anything but a success — and another step toward the team’s goal of playing for a league championship.
When Fedora showed up at Chapel Hill, there appeared to be trepidation surrounding his spread offense. Quarterback Bryn Renner had always played in a pro-style attack, while running back Giovani Bernard was unsure how he’d continue to play a key role for an offense that appeared to be moving away from the running game. As evidenced by the team’s 14th-ranked offense this year, everything actually turned out just fine. Renner was a natural for the spread, and grew my leaps and bounds in comparison to his sophomore campaign. While attempting 72 more passes than 2011 (in one less game), the now-junior only saw a slight dip in accuracy, while throwing for more TDs (28 versus 26) with less sacks and interceptions. And Bernard actually thrived as both part of the passing game, and as a result of its importance in the offense. As a receiving option out of the backfield, Bernard caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five scores (in just 10 games). Plus, because of the spread’s emphasis on the passing game, the slashing sophomore back also saw more holes between the tackles as defenses feared Renner throwing the ball. The result? A campaign that should’ve gotten more Heisman buzz, as Bernard racked up another 1,228 yards on the ground with 12 TDs — again, in 10 games and on 55 less carries compared to last season. Not to be completely outdone, backup (and 2013 starter) A.J. Blue even got in on the act, rushing his way to 433 yards and nine scores on top of that. Overall, the UNC offense averaged 92 yards per game more than they did last year; a phenomenal jump in just one season.