I’m old and in my lifetime of supporting the Tar Heels, there have only been a handful of football seasons that began with what I believed to be a realistic chance for them to do something special.
Last season ended with a New Year’s six bowl game and, if you buy into the hype surrounding this year’s squad, then you believe they are destined to repeat the feat. While I am hoping for the best, I am emotionally preparing for the worst.
Yes, Sam Howell is a Heisman candidate and pre-season All-American, but what happens if he gets hurt? There is very little college football experience behind him on the depth chart.
This is especially scary with the starting center being out week one against Virginia Tech. Carolina returns their entire O-Line this season, but their backup center and projected starter this week is a former walk-on who has become one of my favorite players on this team — but is the backup for a reason. He isn’t as good as the starter, yet now he is the most important member of the offensive line.
Even if we manage to successfully snap the ball and get it to the Howell and block long enough for him to do something with it… what exactly is he going to do with it?
His three favorite receiving targets last season won’t be suiting up for the Tar Heels in Blacksburg. Two of them are playing in the NFL and one is still injured.
I talked about the hype surrounding then freshman wideout Josh Downs in last year’s season preview. Will he be able to continue what he started in the Orange Bowl after defensive coordinators have game film on him to prep with?
Like at receiver, the two most productive Carolina players at running back last year will be playing on Sundays this fall. You would expect that returning the entire offensive line would make any running back look good, but UNC‘s backfield depth chart is led by a transfer from Tennessee and a true freshman who played quarterback in high school.
The Carolina defense looked porous at times last year. Their anticipated improvement is the biggest reason for the hype. People seem to expect the offense to remain as good and a still young defense to have improved.
The secondary was injured most of last season and while there is a lot of talent in the position room, the best ability is availability and they had problems with that.
UNC had some replacing to do at linebacker in the off-season. Word out of camp is that they are confident in the group as a whole but there is no substitute for experience.
They would be greatly aided by a defensive line that has supposedly added some much needed depth. This was the greatest roster need in my opinion after watching them get blown off the line of scrimmage late in big games last season. Size and depth at the line of scrimmage is the biggest difference between good teams and great teams.
There was nothing special about the Carolina special teams last season. You can build enough hype to become a top ten team without special teams that are special, but you can’t end a season in the top ten without it.
All of these are concerns that will remain until Friday night at kickoff. Let’s see how I feel about this column next week.