Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.
2009 final record (overall, conference): 8-5, 4-4
Bowl Game: Meineke Car Care Bowl (L 17-19 vs. Pittsburgh)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 4th ACC Coastal
Offensive rank: 108
Defensive rank: 6
2009 Individual Statistical Leaders
Rushing: Ryan Houston, 713 yards, 9 TD
Passing: T.J. Yates, 2,136 yards, 14 TD, 15 INT
Receiving: Greg Little, 724 yards, 5 TD
Tackles: Quan Sturdivant, 79 total tackles
Sacks: Robert Quinn, 11 sacks (11 solo)
Interceptions: Deunta Williams, 6 interceptions; Kendric Burney, 5 interceptions (2 touchdowns)
2010 Season Outlook
September 4 vs. LSU: The Tar Heels have not played much against the SEC in recent seasons, with the lone exception being a 2007 loss against South Carolina. LSU, on the other hand, has beaten ACC teams in bowl games in 2005 and 2008, and have not lost their opening game since the 2002 season when they were taken down by Virginia Tech, then of the Big East.
September 18 vs. Georgia Tech: This conference matchup will set the early pace in the ACC Coastal Division. The Tar Heels, who let up under 100 yards rushing a game last season, were smoked by the Georgia Tech triple option offense for 317 yards on the ground in last season's matchup..
October 23 @ Miami:The Tar Heels have owned the Hurricanes since Miami entered the ACC in the 2004 season. In their first season in the ACC, the 'Canes looked poised to compete with Oklahoma and USC for the national championship, but were taken down by the Tar Heels after a 6-0 start as Connor Barth hit a 42 yard field goal as time expired. UNC holds a 2-4 series lead over Miami since the U joined the ACC, and have beaten the 'Canes the past three seasons. This matchup will have enormous implications on the final ACC Coastal standings and may ultimately decide who plays for the ACC title.
November 13 vs. Virginia Tech:Like the Miami matchup, this one will have a big impact on the ACC's final standings. Unlike the Miami series, though, the Tar Heels have not had much luck with Vtech since the Hokies came into the conference in 2004. They did, however, take down the 13th ranked Hokies two weeks before taking down the 14th ranked Hurricanes last season. This one will be won in the trenches, as Ryan Williams will challenge the UNC front seven and the Tar Heels offensive line must hold against the Virginia Tech defense.
Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)
Kyle Jolly, OT; E.J. Wilson, DE; Cam Thomas, DT
Key Returning Players
T.J. Yates, QB; Shaun Draughn, RB; Greg Little, WR; Erik Highsmith, WR; Zack Pianalto, TE; Robert Quinn, DE; Marvin Austin, DT; Quan Sturdivant, LB; Bruce Carter, LB; Kendrick Burney, CB; Charles Brown, CB; Deunta Williams, S; Da'Norris Searcy, S
How often is it that a team returns all but one player who caught a pass the previous season? I don't have the stats on it, and looking through 100 years of college football statistics isn’t too appealing, but my guess would be not very often. The only player who caught a pass last season and is not returning in 2010 is Bobby Rome, a running back who hauled in three passes for 28 yards last season. Greg Little returns for his senior season after a breakout 2009 campaign. Erik Highsmith was the team's second leading receiver as a freshman last year and is expected to start opposite Little. Tight end Zack Pianalto should also be a big contributor in the receiving game.
Running back Ryan Houston, last year's leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, took time this spring to concentrate on his academics, allowing Shaun Draughns, who missed the end of last season due to injury, to reclaim the starting position. The Tar Heels are deep at running back and the two seniors should both see significant playing time this season. Paving the way will be a somewhat uncertain offensive line. Jonathan Cooper started at guard in his freshman season, but will start this season at center. Tackle Carl Gaskins and guard Alan Pelc will hold the left side of the line, while tackle Mike Ingersoll and guard Travis Bond will be on the right. If this line can hold and stay healthy, offensive production should improve.
At quarterback, T.J. Yates enters his fourth year as the Tar Heels starting quarterback. The passing attack will have to get better in 2010, especially with Little, Highsmith, Pianalto and the rest of the receiving corps returning. Yates eclipsed 250 yards passing just one time in 2009. Bryn Renner was the nation's fifth ranked pro-style quarterback prospect according to Rivals in 2009, and could challenge Yates for playing time this season. Head coach Butch Davis has even said that Renner will see the field against LSU in the opener. Whoever is under center, UNC must improve through the air to challenge Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech for the right to play for the ACC crown.
The defensive line returns two potential first-rounders next April in junior Robert Quinn and senior Marvin Austin. Austin is regarded by some as the top prospect in next year's draft at this way early point. Defensive end E.J. Wilson and defensive tackle Cam Thomas, however, are gone, leaving two holes along the line. What's more, Aleric Mullins decided to leave school a year early, taking away a bit of depth along the line. The Tar Heels should not have too much trouble filling the gaps with defensive end Quinton Coples and defensive tackle Tydreke Powell expected to fill the starting positions. Both players saw significant time last season and should step up right away. Michael McAdoo impressed in the spring game and could challenge Coples for the starting spot opposite of Quinn as the offseason continues. Donte Paige-Moss and Linwan Euwell should also see playing time at end, while Jared McAdoo and Jordan Nix, an Oklahoma transfer, will see time at tackle.
Yes, the Tar Heels have six defenders with first round aspirations in next year's draft. Deunta Williams is one of the nation's top safeties and is the leader of the Tar Heels secondary that returns all four starters from 2009. Meanwhile, Kendric Burney returns at cornerback with Charles Brown, another highly touted corner, also returning. There are a lot of seniors on this defense and Robert Quinn, a junior, could also make the leap to the NFL following the season. The Tar Heels have depth, but with experienced All-America caliber defenders all over the place, the pressure is on to make a run at an ACC title.
Special Teams Overview
Kicker Casey Barth is among the conference's top kickers coming off a sophomore campaign in which he hit 21 of his 25 field goals and 34 of his 35 extra point attempts. He was four for five from beyond 40 yards and even hit a game winning field goal against 13th ranked Virginia Tech as time expired. He returns as the starting kicker, while Grant Schallock returns to his punting duties. He averaged just over 40 yards per punt with a long of 55 last season.
Head Coach: Butch Davis
Butch Davis led Miami through the darkest hours of the program after it was found that the program had committed several NCAA violations under Davis' predecessor, Dennis Ericson. Sound familiar? It was during this time that Sports Illustrated ran the famous 'Why the University of Miami should drop football' cover and article. Despite the controversy and hard times, Davis fought through and led the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record and the #2 ranking in the human polls in 2000. Many feel Davis and his Hurricanes should have had the opportunity to play for the national championship that season, but were not invited and watched in-state rival FSU, who they had beaten in the regular season, get the opportunity.
Just as he did at Miami, Davis has recruited extremely well since taking over at Carolina in 2007. While with the 'Canes, Davis recruited and coached what would eventually make up a good portion of the NFL's Pro Bowl rosters for the next decade. His Tar Heels recruiting classes have been ranked 17, 32, 9 and 29 since he took over after the 2006 season. At North Carolina, Davis has the Tar Heels on the verge of hitting it big in the ACC, and should have a number of players taken in the first couple of rounds in next year's draft pending good performances this season.
Top 2011 Draft Prospects
Ryan Houston, RB/FB; Greg Little, WR; Zach Pianalto, TE; Marvin Austin, DT; Bruce Carter, LB; Quan Sturdivant, LB; Kendric Burney, CB; Charles Brown, CB; Deunta Williams, S
3rd ACC Coastal
With so much experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball, UNC must find a way to move the ball on offense in 2010 if they want a shot at the Coastal Division title. There's a very good chance that the Tar Heels could be playing in the ACC Championship come December, but to get there they'll need more production out of their passing game, and their running game will have to hit a groove to consistently move the ball. They haven't shown they're capable of doing that yet, making it hard to put them ahead of the Hokies and 'Canes who, while they've struggled at times, have shown a lot of promise on the offensive side of the ball going into this season.
We should expect to see a more productive offense this season with experience all around (9 returning starters) and all of their skill position players with at least one year of experience under their belts. How the offensive line holds up against the conference's better defensive fronts and how well they are able to move the ball through the air will ultimately be the key to whether the Tar Heels go to the ACC Championship, or whether they make their third consecutive trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.