Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
2012 W-L: 8-4 (5-3)
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (8-4; second season)
Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)
Last year appeared uneventful for the Tar Heels from the opening whistle: A bowl ban prevented them from going anywhere in the postseason, they had a new coach in Larry Fedora and in an ACC Coastal Division dominated by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech since its inception, it looked as if they had no shot. But then the team caught on to Fedora’s spread offense quicker than expected, halfback Giovani Bernard put together one of the country’s best all-around seasons and the team road a very manageable schedule to a tie for the division title (despite not being able to compete for it). After all that, now the stakes are much higher for North Carolina — a team that’s spent several years knocking on the door of upper-level success, and may finally be able to break through this year.
Offensively, the Heels were only really stopped by themselves last year. A lack of focus here and there, and no true top receiving target left things to question more often than likely anyone would be comfortable with. And yet, in a completely new scheme, it’s frightening to think things could’ve gone better than they did last year. But they honestly could this fall. Before Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill, Bryn Renner was a simple pro-style passer, accurate and methodical in his delivery. Now, he appears to be a master of the spread, losing very little in accuracy while throwing 72 more passes (in one less game) and increasing touchdown and yardage numbers while decreasing sacks to a paltry 11. He still doesn’t have a top-flight wideout this season, but there’s thought this team’s progressed on that front too (a welcome sign for the senior QB). Quinshad Davis showed off some flashes of brilliance as a real deep threat receiver last year, and tight end Eric Ebron is being talked about as one of his position’s best in the country. Even if just those two pass-catching options can make good on some preseason hype, that’ll be more than enough for Renner to work with. Despite losing standout guard Jonathan Cooper to the NFL, this year’s group is still strong, and should be able to protect their quarterback just the same as always.