#18 North Carolina Football 2016 Preview

North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Rank: #18
#4 ACC
Few teams in the country had a more surprising season than North Carolina. The Tar Heels were supposed to be good, but they went 8-0 in ACC play and dominated some good teams along the way. Following a season opening loss to South Carolina by a score of 17-13, UNC won their last 11 games of the regular season. Following a close loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, North Carolina ended their year with another loss, this time to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
2015 Record: 11-3, 8-0
2015 Bowl: Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Baylor (L 38-49)
Coach: Larry Fedora (32-20 at North Carolina, 66-39 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Gunter Brewer, Chris Kapilovic
Defensive Coordinator: Gene Chizik
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Elijah Hood, RB, 1,463 yards
Passing: Mitch Trubisky, QB, 555 yards
Receiving: Mack Hollins, WR, 745 yards
Tackles: Donnie Miles, S, 128
Sacks: Mikey Bart, DE, 6.5
Interceptions: MJ Stewart, CB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB TJ Logan, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, OL Lucas Crowley, OL Caleb Peterson, OL Jon Heck, CB Desmond Lawrence, LB Andre Smith, K Nick Weiler
Key Losses: WR Quinshad Davis, OL Landon Turner, LB Shakeel Rashad, LB Jeff Schoettmer, DT Justin Thomason, DE Junior Gnonkonde, S Sam Smiley
The offense ranked ninth in the country with 40.7 points per game and, despite some new faces, should be able to put up similarly explosive numbers in 2016. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky will replace Marquise Williams. Trubisky threw for 555 yards and six touchdowns last season as a backup and he is more than ready to take over the starting job. Like Williams, Trubisky can do plenty of damage with his legs too. With Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins and Bug Howard forming a dangerous receiving trio, UNC will be a very good passing team. However, they may be a better running team. Elijah Hood rushed for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and T.J. Logan added 400 yards and five scores. Hood will again be the workhorse, but Logan is a very talented back too who can make the most of his opportunities. With a strong and deep offensive line, this North Carolina offense will be extremely difficult to contain.
The defense made big strides during Gene Chizik’s first year leading the Tar Heels defense, but there is still a long way to go. The team still ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense, allowing 435.9 yards per game. That was a lot better than in 2014, but not good enough. The defensive line will be led by Dajaun Drennon and Nazair Jones, but they need a lot of help after ranking dead last in the ACC in rush defense in 2015. The issues at linebacker could be even a bigger concern. Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer are gone after easily being the most productive linebackers last season. That leaves Andre Smith and Cayson Collins to lead a very young group of linebackers. The secondary is in much better shape, but that may not matter if the opposition can easily run through the UNC front seven. Cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence are proven playmakers and strong safety Donnie Miles led the team with 128 tackles.
The Bottom Line:
Even with a new quarterback, the North Carolina offense will be one of the most explosive in the ACC. The difference will be on defense and just how much better the unit will get in year with Chizik as the coordinator. The road to an ACC Coastal title will go through Chapel Hill. The schedule is not particularly easy though. The Tar Heels do avoid Clemson and Louisville from the Atlantic Division, but they travel to Florida State and Miami early in the year with a home date against a pretty good Virginia Tech team sandwiched in the middle. That will be the stretch of games that determines North Carolina’s fate in 2016.
Projected Bowl: Pinstripe Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 224.4 (18th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 262.5 (34, 3)
Total Offense: 486.9 (18, 2)
Scoring Offense: 40.7 (9, 1)
Rushing Defense: 247.4 (121, 14)
Pass Defense: 188.6 (18, 3)
Total Defense: 435.9 (95, 13)
Scoring Defense: 24.5 (42, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.50 (30, 3)
Sacks: 1.64 (96, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 1.14 (13, 1)


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