#46 North Carolina Football 2017 Preview

North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Rank: #46
#9 ACC
In 2016, North Carolina once again had another very good season under Coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels ended up beating teams like Florida State and Miami and finished with eight victories. That got them to a good bowl game against Stanford at the Sun Bowl. They lost a hard fought battle 25-23. In 2017, Coach Fedora has a lot of coaching to do with so many key players gone.
2016 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2016 Bowl: Sun Bowl vs. Stanford (L 23-25)
Coach: Larry Fedora (40-25 at North Carolina, 74-44 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Chris Kapilovic
Defensive Coordinator: John Papuchis
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jordon Brown, RB, 45 yards
Passing: Nathan Elliott, QB, 55 yards
Receiving: Austin Proehl, WR, 597 yards
Tackles: Cole Holcomb, LB, 115
Sacks: Malik Carney, DE, 5.5
Interceptions: None
Other Key Returnees: LB Andre Smith, S Donnie Miles, CB M.J. Stewart, LB Cayson Collins
Key Losses: RB Elijah Hood, RB T.J. Logan, QB Mitch Trubisky, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, OL Lucas, OL Jon Heck, CB Des Lawrence, DT Nazair Jones, S Dominique Green, K Nick Weiler
North Carolina’s offense revolved around quarterback Mitch Trubisky, receiver Ryan Switzer and running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan. Those four, among others, are gone and that leaves a lot of questions. LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris is the favorite to take over at quarterback. Nobody else on the roster has a collegiate start under their belt. Harris is a dangerous dual threat signal caller and should be able to grab the starting role by opening day. Austin Proehl is the only experienced wide receiver on the roster and it remains to be seen if anybody else is ready to step up. Stanton Truitt, a graduate transfer from Auburn, figures to join Jordon Brown in the backfield. Brown only had 20 carries for 45 yards last season, but he is a very talented player who is ready for a much more productive sophomore season. If some more graduate transfers can add quality depth to the offensive line, this North Carolina offense can be surprisingly decent.
With the offense retooling, the defense will be asked to help pick up the slack. The run defense ranked last in the ACC and allowed 227.3 yards per game. That should improve with so much returning to the front seven. Defensive end Malik Carney led the team with 5.5 sacks and Dajaun Drennon will start again at the other end. Both starting tackles from a year ago are gone, but the Tar Heels have plenty of options and depth. The top five linebackers are back, including Cole Holcomb who led the team with 115 tackles. Andre Smith added 113 and Cayson Collins 60. The secondary was very strong last season and should be solid again in 2017. M.J. Stewart is a superb cornerback and safety Donnie Miles is one of the best in the ACC, but freshman Tre Shaw will have to step up and replace the departed Des Lawrence and sophomore Patrice Rene will have to replace Dominique Green.
The Bottom Line:
The offense will obviously take some time to come together and there is not much time for that to happen with games against California and Louisville to kick off the season. But eventually that talent will be productive and help the Tar Heels compete in what should be a wide open ACC Coastal Division. UNC has three big games in a row against Virginia Tech, Miami and Pittsburgh in late October and early November. If they can manage to stay above water in the meantime, those three games will decide if North Carolina can compete for a title or if they will finish in the middle of the table.
Projected Bowl: Independence Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 145.8 (100th in nation, 11th in conference)
Passing Offense: 293.2 (22, 3)
Total Offense: 439.0 (45, 7)
Scoring Offense: 32.3 (44, 7)
Rushing Defense: 227.3 (109, 14)
Pass Defense: 180.8 (12, 1)
Total Defense: 408.1 (63, 10)
Scoring Defense: 24.9 (43, 8)
Turnover Margin: -0.15 (78, 11)
Sacks: 1.92 (75, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 1.54 (30, 5)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#79 Donnie Miles
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#209 Billy Ross
#217 Jonah Melton
#227 Jake Lawler