Preview 2017: North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2017: North Carolina Tar Heels

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Preview 2017: North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2017: North Carolina Tar Heels


Previewing and looking ahead at the North Carolina Tar Heels season – and what you need to know.


Contact @PeteFiutak

2017 North Carolina Preview: Total Tar Heel Rebuild?
2017 North Carolina Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– North Carolina Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The North Carolina Offense

It would’ve been nice if Mitch-now-he’s-Mitchell Trubisky was still around for one more year, but he’s off being a Chicago Bear, and the North Carolina offense has to find a new starting quarterback.

And a running back, and a receiver.

The Tar Heel offense that finished 13th in the nation in passing efficiency and average 32 points per game is all but starting from scratch among the skill spots.

LSU transfer Brandon Harris will be in later this summer, but can he be better than he was in Baton Rouge? There are other quarterback options battling it out, but it’s going to be a fight for the gig up until the final moments.

But who will the new guy throw to?

Leading target Ryan Switzer and three of the top four receivers are gone, and now the lineup is being figured out on the fly to work around Austin Proehl. The jobs are wide open for a slew of young prospects to show what they can do. But compared to the running backs, the receiving corps is loaded.

With Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan gone after each averaging well over five yards per carry for a ground game that was fine when needed, there’s … ummmm … uhhhhh … hope?

Jordon Brown, Auburn transfer Stanton Truitt, freshman Michael Carter and a few career backups will get their chances behind a line that gets back three starters, but loses C Lucas Crowley and OT Jon Heck.

Biggest Key To The North Carolina Offense

Yeah, that running game needs to be effective. Trubisky added an underappreciated rushing element to the mix, and that’s what Harris – or any of the new quarterbacks – are going to have to do to help out the backs. The power and production of Hood and Logan will be missed, and now it’ll take a rotation to boost up a ground game that finished 100th in the nation.

It was easy to rely on Trubisky winging the ball around, but this time around the Tar Heels will have to balance it out a bit more. They ran for just 1,896 yards last season, but when they had a runner under center in Marquise Williams, they cranked out 3,142 yards and 40 scores averaging six yards per crack. They might be somewhere in between this year.

What You Need To Know About The North Carolina Defense

The defense that struggled so much against the run should all of a sudden be a whole lot better if the experience comes through.

Nazair Jones is gone from one tackle spot, but the pass rush should be able to crank up from the outside with Malik Carney ready to rise up, and with more depth and talent ready to rotate in. But now that run D has to start holding teams down below 200 yards on a regular basis.

The linebacking corps returns even stronger, with Andre Smith in the middle and Cole Holcomb on the outside about to put up huge numbers, even with a potentially stronger line that should hold up better.

And then there’s the secondary. The talent is there with M.J. Stewart back at one corner and Donnie Miles a great safety who’ll come up with lots of hits, but can the defensive backs finally …

Biggest Key To The North Carolina Defense

Pick … off … a … pass. Actually, pick off two passes. The North Carolina defense was able to come up with 13 fumble recoveries on the year, and the secondary did a nice job overall, allowing a mere 181 passing yards per game – 12th best in the country.

But the Tar Heels came up with a grand total of one pick, and that came against Citadel from the FCS world. How weird was this? The Tar Heels intercepted 17 passes in 2015, and the 12 they took away in 2014 was actually considered way low. This year’s group has too much talent to not start taking the ball away more.

North Carolina Will Be Far Better If …

The penalties slow down. A problem three years ago, the Tar Heels tightened up a bit committing 80 penalties in 2015. Last year, though, they were hit for 99 flags with the 13 in the opener against Georgia a major problem and with seven or more on a consistent basis over the second half of last year. Considering this year’s team won’t be as explosive and should be in as many tight games – if not more – they can’t afford the mistakes.

Best North Carolina Offensive Player

OT Bentley Spain, Sr. – Consider this a bit of a copout considering the uncertainty at all the key skill spots – the Tar Heels need one of the running backs or a solid quarterback option to step up.

The 6-6, 300-pound Spain has grown into a steady all-around blocker at left tackle who helped the line that allowed just 20 sacks on the year. It’s been his job to protect Marquise Williams, and then Mitchell Trubisky, and now in his third year as the starter, he should be in the mix for All-ACC mention.

2. QB Brandon Harris, Sr.
3. WR Austin Proehl, Sr.
4. QB Chazz Surratt, RFr.
5. RB Jordon Brown, Soph.

Best North Carolina Defensive Player

LB Andre Smith, Jr. – Fellow linebacker Cole Holcomb led the team in tackles, but Smith was the main man inside making 113 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss as he’s growing into the tough leader of the defensive front seven.

The 6-0, 235-pounder has terrific range and gets into the backfield when needed, but his job is to hold up against the run after things get funneled his way. Expect an all-star season with around 120 stops.

2. CB M.J. Stewart, Sr.
3. DE Malik Carney, Jr.
4. LB Cole Holcomb, Jr.
5. S Donnie Miles, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Brandon Harris, Sr. – Replace the guy the Chicago Bears traded away a slew of (worthless, to be honest) draft picks get. Good luck, Brandon.

The former LSU starter was the one-time star get for the SEC program, but he gave up a pick on the one pass he couldn’t make in the loss to Wisconsin, the team needed to make a change under center, and that was it. Now he has to try replacing Mitchell Trubisky, who hit 68% of his passes for over 3,700 yards with 30 touchdowns and six picks.

Harris wouldn’t have transferred to UNC to be a backup, but he’s still going to have to earn the gig. If it’s not Harris, Chazz Surratt might have the biggest upside, while Logan Byrd also got plenty of work this offseason. No matter who it is, he’ll have to carry the attack early on in likely shootouts against Cal and Louisville.

The North Carolina Season Will Be A Success If …

It gets to the ACC Championship for the second time in three years. That’s where the bar is set now for the program, even if there’s no experience compared to the last few seasons.

Fortunately, the schedule works out nicely with the miracle of no Clemson or Florida State to deal with from the Atlantic, the Louisville game at home, and getting Miami and Notre Dame in Chapel Hill. However, the Georgia Tech, Pitt and NC State games are on the road along with …

Key Game To The North Carolina Season

Oct. 21 at Virginia Tech – The winner of this Coastal showdown over the last two years earned the right to lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship. Miami, Pitt and Georgia Tech should be the equation this season, but it’ll still be one of the biggest battles for the division title.

With Miami at home the following week, and the road test at Pitt coming after, the Tar Heels can make some noise with a win in Blacksburg to avenge last season’s hurricane-soaked loss.

2016 North Carolina Fun Stats

– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 14-of-21 (67%) – North Carolina 6-of-15 (40%)
– Fumbles: Opponents 29 (lost 13) – North Carolina 14 (lost 10)
– Punt Returns: North Carolina 17 for 134 yards – Opponents 9 for 2 yards

2017 North Carolina Preview: Total Tar Heel Rebuild?
2017 North Carolina Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– North Carolina Previews: 2016 | 2015

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