2010 NCAA Football Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

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2009 Record: 8-5 (4-4 in ACC)
2009 Bowl: Meineke Car Care Bowl (lost to Pitt 19-17)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Butch Davis (20-18 at UNC, 71-38 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: LSU (9/4), at Rutgers (9/25), East Carolina (10/2), William & Mary (10/30)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 23.8 points per game (10th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 132 (7th in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 174 (10th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 307 (11th in ACC) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 17.1 points per game (2nd in ACC, 13th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 95 (1st in ACC, 10th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 174 (3rd in ACC, 14th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 269 (1st in ACC, 6th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.15 per game (5th in ACC)
Penalties: 56 yards per game (11th in ACC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 10
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB T.J. Yates, Sr (214 of 355 for 2136 yards, 14 TD, 15 INT, 164 ypg)
Rushing: RB Ryan Houston, Sr (191 carries for 713 yds, 3.7 ypc, 9 TD, 54 ypg)
Rushing: RB Shaun Draughn, Sr (124 carries for 567 yds, 4.5 ypc, 1 TD, 56 ypg)
Receiving: WR Greg Little, Sr (62 rec, 724 yds, 5 TD, 4.8 rec/game, 55 ypg)
Tackles: LB Quan Sturdivant, Sr (79)
Sacks: DE Robert Quinn, Jr (11)
Interceptions: FS Deunta Williams, Sr (6)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #19
Lindy's: #13
Phil Steele: #12
Rivals: #17
Scout: #14
Sporting News:  #23
Sports Illustrated: #18
USA Today Coaches Poll: #18

2010 Pre-Season ACC Coastal Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #3
Phil Steele: #2 (tie with Virginia Tech)

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Sun Bowl (vs. Arizona)
Phil Steele: Chik-fil-A Bowl (vs. South Carolina)

North Carolina had a very strong defense last year and ranked among the best in the ACC and the Nation. However, their offense held them back in more than one game (lost to GT 24-7, lost to Virginia 16-3). This year UNC has more returning starters than 90% of the rest of the teams in college football and returns the most starters in the ACC (just barely over Georgia Tech- Tech's 4 starters that aren't returning were all impact players drafted into the NFL). With NCAA implications swirling around the program, UNC could not have scheduled a tougher opening 3 game stretch. They start with LSU in Atlanta, then have Georgia Tech at home and then face Rutgers on the road. All 3 games are very winnable but all 3 games are against tough teams that are all capable of beating UNC if UNC's offense does not step up. Earlier this off-season our UNC blogger Troy answered some of our usual questions that I throw out on the pre-season previews (you can find the answers here and here). We also visited with former UNC player Michael Felder of In The Bleachers and he answered some UNC and general college football questions for us. Now it's time for the final round as we re-visit with Troy to get some more up-to-date information on his thoughts on the 2010 North Carolina Tar Heels.

The first game on the schedule is a big one against LSU. What do you hope to learn from that game and what would you view as a successful outing against the Tigers?

I hope to learn that we're legit. A win would be a successful outing against LSU.

What team do you want to beat more than any other?

LSU. I'm from right outside of Baton Rouge, LA, so it's a bit personal for me.

The North Carolina defense has a lot of buzz surrounding it right now. Who are the guys that really need to step up and have a big year for UNC to live up to it's defensive expectations?

I'm not going to single any one person out right here. The ENTIRE defense needs to play A+ football each game for this defense to live up to expectations.

Who do you see as UNC's biggest competition in the Coastal Division?

Miami. I know the preseason polls picked VT to win the division, but rarely do they pick the ACC right.

What one opposing player strikes fear in your heart?

QB Russell Wilson from NCSU. 20/27, 259 yards, and four TDs against us last year. I truly think if he played on a better team that he'd be a Heisman candidate.

Marvin Austin and possibly Quin Sturdivant and Greg Little might be facing suspension early in the season. If this happens, who are the guys that need to step up to take their place and how do you feel losing these guys might impact the Tar Heels season?

Jordan Nix (replacing Austin), Zack Brown (replacing Sturdivant), and Jheranie Boyd (replacing Little). I believe if we lose all three at the same time, it'll be huge. Austin's one of our best defensive linemen (with Robert Quinn at DE), Quan's our best linebacker, and Greg Little is our best overall offensive player who provided the spark we needed at times last year. We really need to beat LSU to get off to a good start because then we have a bye week, and then GT comes to town. I haven't really heard much about Austin's situation, so it's kind of hard to predict what'll happen to him. Quan's charges were dropped due to an agreement with judge (24 hours community service + class), but he's still yet to face Butch's punishment. I could see a game suspension, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the field vs. LSU. Greg Little looks to be safe for now.

Any change from your earlier 9-3 pick?

I'm going to stick with my 9-3 regular season pick. I say we finish 10-3 after the bowl game.

Next Up: Clemson Tigers

Previous ACC Previews:
Boston College Eagles 
Duke Blue Devils 
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 
Maryland Terrapins 
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Virginia Cavaliers 
Virginia Tech Hokies 
Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Previous Pre-Season Previews
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SEC- Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies