Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
2011 W-L: 7-6 (3-5)
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (first season)
Returning Starters: 13 (8 Offense, 5 Defense)
While the narrative for UNC’s 2012 football season will ultimately be the postseason ban they must serve, new head coach Larry Fedora will probably play a close second. The former Southern Mississippi coach, known for a high-octane attack on both sides of the ball, has brought the same energy to Chapel Hill with the promise of a new era in Tar Heels football. Between the talent already on the team, and his dedicated work on the recruiting front, Fedora could be building one of the country’s most entertaining squads to watch.
Last year, Clemson‘s pace blew away much of the rest of the ACC, as they utilized superior speed on offense to simply run other opponents right off the field. With a similar group of athletes at his disposal at UNC, Fedora is attempting to recreate it for himself. The first step is getting QB Bryn Renner on board with the high-octane spread — something he’s already driven headlong into in order to master. If Renner is fully up to the transition from Butch Davis’s pro-style set to this spread, then that’s half the battle. Second, the team will also lean significantly on the agility of sophomore back Giovani Bernard. The speedy rusher was one of the big surprises of the conference last season, and it’s a necessity for him to be effective in order to properly set up the pass. Bernard, who also caught 45 balls for 362 yards last year, can also expect even more involvement in the passing game this year, putting 60 receptions well within reach. And he’ll desperately need to get there if the receiving corps remain as muddled as they’ve been. Senior Erik Highsmith is obviously the star of the group, but beyond him, there’s a lot of uncertainty. With T.J. Thorpe out of the year, Jheranie Boyd becomes the only other experienced option out there; not the best scenario for Renner at all.