It finally all came together for North Carolina in 2015. After failing to live up to expectations, the Tar Heels finished up the regular season at 11-1. That included a perfect 8-0 mark inside the ACC.
The lone loss came in the first game of the season against South Carolina. They would give Clemson all they could handle in the ACC title game, but would fall 37-45. They then were upset by Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl 38-49.
Now the big question is whether or not the Tar Heels can defend their Coastal title. North Carolina will have 14 returning starters in what will be Larry Fedora’s 5th season.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|10/1||@ Florida State|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
The Tar Heels will be tested right out of the gates in 2016. North Carolina opens the season with a neutral site game against SEC power Georgia. They then have to go on the road to face Illinois.
After a cupcake game at home against James Madison, UNC opens ACC play at home against Pitt. This is the first of a critical 5-game stretch for the Tar Heels.
Following their showdown with the Seminoles, they have to host a Virginia Tech team coming off a bye. Next up is back-to-back road games against Coastal favorite Miami and Virginia. I include the Cavaliers in the 5-game stretch, as that will be a difficult spot coming off the game at Miami.
Things get a lot easier for the Tar Heels down the stretch, as 3 of the final 4 are at home. The only road contest coming against Duke, who they throttled 66-31 last season.
North Carolina will have 7 starters back from an offense that averaged 40.7 ppg and 487 ypg. It was a well balanced attack, as the Tar Heels put up 224 ypg on the ground and another 263 ypg through the air.
A big reason for that was the play of quarterback Marquise Williams. He completed over 60% of his passes for 3,072 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also rushed for 948 yards and 13 scores.
Unfortunately for North Carolina he’s no longer in Chapel Hill. The offense will turn over to junior Mitch Trubisky. In limited action last year, Trubisky was impressive. He competed 40 of 47 passes for 555 yards with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 101 yards and 3 scores on 16 attempts (6.3 yards/carry).
While Trubisky’s numbers look great, they did come in mop up duty. Most of those against Delaware in the 3rd game of the season. In that contest he went 17 of 20 for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns.
There’s a good chance Trubisky will fail to match the production provided by Williams. On the bright side, there’s a lot of talent coming back around him.
North Carolina gets back one of the ACC’s top running backs in Elijah Hood. He put up 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore and will have another strong o-line blocking for him. The Tar Heels return 4 of 5 starters up front. However, they do lose their top linemen in guard Landon Turner.
Trubisky will have two strong weapons to throw to in Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer. They also get back wide out Bug Howard and talented sophomore tight end Brandon Fritts.
The defense also has 7 starters back from last year. This unit made huge strides in the first year under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. The Tar Heels went from giving up 39.0 ppg in 2014 to allowing just 24.5 ppg. A massive 14.5 point improvement.
The stop unit did give up their fair share of yards, especially against the run. North Carolina allowed 436 ypg overall and a staggering 247 ypg on the ground.
They have to get better against the run and it starts up front on the defensive line. The Tar Heels have 3 starters coming back and are counting on sophomore defensive tackle Nazair Jones to lead the unit.
Things aren’t looking as good at linebacker. They lose their two studs in Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer. Rashad was second on the team with 126 tackles and Schoettmer was third with 97. The only starter back is sophomore Andrew Smith, who shined as a true freshman.
The secondary was dominant last year, allowing just a 54.5% completion rate. They figure to be just as good in 2016 with their top three playmakers back. That includes safety Donnie Miles and corners M.J. Stewart and Desmond Lawrence. Miles led the team with 128 tackles. Stewart and Lawrence earned 2nd-Team All-ACC honors.
Regular Season Win Total
ACC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesty of 5Dimes
There’s going to be a lot of people who pencil in the Tar Heels to defend their Coastal title. I’m not one of them. I believe the loss of Williams is going to be too much to overcome. North Carolina also goes from flying under the radar to having a huge target on their back.
An experienced quarterback and a defense that may not be all that great are my biggest concerns. At the same time, the schedule isn’t all that easy.
I have them losing to Georgia, at Florida State and at Miami. I’m also calling for a loss in one of their games against Va Tech, Pitt, Duke or Virginia. That adds up to a 5-3 conference record and 8-4 record overall.
Win Total Prediction