This spring and summer was full of chatter surrounding the fortunes of North Carolina football. Many experts believed that the Tarheels’ defensive prowess would carry them to the ACC title game, and perhaps beyond, but an ongoing NCAA investigation has put the team’s high hopes in serious jeopardy.
The probe has resulted in the indefinite suspension of several players, including star defensive tackle Marvin Austin. Remember that it was Austin’s Twitter post that helped launch and focus the current inquiry.
A total of six Tarheels have been ruled ineligible for the season opener: Austin, cornerback Charles Brown, cornerback Kendric Burney, wide receiver Greg Little, defensive end Michael McAdoo and defensive end Robert Quinn.
These six were declared guilty of “violating school and/or NCAA rules” according to the university. Austin and Little represent the most serious losses; the two are leaders of their respective units in addition to being top producers.
Another six players will be benched for the game, a decision made by the athletic department. Tailback Shaun Draughn, defensive end Linwan Euwell, safety Brian Gupton, tailback Ryan Houston, safety Da’Norris Searcy and safety Jonathan Smith are all being held out due to the on-going investigation, presumably because should any of these ultimately be found guilty of violations, they could be declared ineligible. That would retro-actively impact the game– if the Tarheels were to win with these players in the lineup, they might be stripped of the victory or be subject to other sanctions.
The total of 12 absent players could rise to 15, as linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter and safety Deunta Williams have been prohibited from traveling with the team. The university did issue a statement saying these three players hope to be cleared in time to play on Saturday, but that’s not yet a certainty.
Regardless of whether or not this trio is able to suit up, UNC will find itself in a desperate situation. Not only is a win this weekend highly improbable, but the suspensions and benchings could last well beyond week 1. There is no indication of how long Austin and his teammates might be sidelined, but without the services of these dozen players, the Tarheels will be hard-pressed to stay competitive in the tough ACC Coastal Division.
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