Throughout August, we will be counting down the top 25 teams (as listed here) going into the 2009 season. Today we climb the Chapel Hill and take a closer look at North Carolina. Fun fact: notable UNC alumni include Dan Cortese, Andy Griffith, and Dr. Ken Jeong. 






First Impressions

To be honest, ever since UNC hired Butch Davis, I’ve had the Tar Heels as a sleeping giant in the back of my mind. The recent tradition isn’t necessarily there, but their recruiting base of states in the Southern and Mid-Atlantic states is obviously rock solid. 

In Davis’s first two years, the Tar Heels have gone from four to eight wins and have put together quality recruiting classes along the way. 

As much as I like and think North Carolina should continue to move up in the ACC standings, there’s still the pesky reality that Miami and Florida State aren’t getting any worse and Virginia Tech shows no signs of slowing down. 

Last Year

The 2008 season saw the win total double and North Carolina emerge as an ACC threat. They notched impressive wins over Notre Dame, Boston College, Miami, and Georgia Tech, but fell respectably to Virginia Tech (after an injury sidelined QB TJ Yates), but not so respectably to Virginia and NC State. In the all-important Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Tar Heels played well, but a career day by Pat White was too much for UNC to handle in a 31-30 loss. 

In a word, UNC’s 2008 season was encouraging. When a new coach doubles your win total and you end up in a respectable bowl, things are heading in the right direction. 


The beginning of this story is who North Carolina loses. Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate were the team’s primary playmakers last year, but North Carolina has stocked the depth chart with impressive young talent (read: Greg Little) to step in and make in an immediate impact. 

TJ Yates has a fair amount of talent but needs to bounce back from a year in which he was afflicted by both injury and inconsistency. If Yates can stay healthy, limit the turnovers, and lead a balanced attack featuring inexperienced receivers, there’s no reason the Tar Heels can’t build on 2008’s improved season. 

Marvin Austin is one of the five best defensive tackles in the country – always nice to have up front, although he could be gone after this season. Beyond Austin, UNC returns more than enough front seven talent on defense to keep up with the speed of the ACC and take pressure off an average secondary. It seems to me like being tackled by junior MLB Quan Sturdivant (all ACC name team) wouldn’t be all that pleasant. 

This Year

The non-coference schedule for the Heels is decent – no ranked teams, but they do two play quality opponents – @Connecticut and ECU in Chapel Hill. 

The first week of the season presents UNC with their first big road test in Georgia Tech, a team that they were able to handle last season despite an onslaught of rushing yards by the Yellow Jackets. They then round out the first half of the season with winnable home games against Virginia and Georgia Southern. At this point, best case scenario is probably 5-1, worst case probably 3-3. Not too bad. 

The second half of the season is pretty rough – FSU and then a trip to Lane Stadium to take on Virginia Tech. A split there would be ideal. Miami at home is a big game for both teams and then the season finishes with two tough-ish road games – @ Boston College and then @ NC State. 

The schedule isn’t great, but if turnovers are limited and the defense can remain stout, there’s no reason that 2009 can’t top a promising ’08.


On paper, it may look like UNC has stepped back because of receiver and offensive line losses, but if TJ Yates can continue to limit the turnovers and stay healthy, the young receiving corps should develop nicely. You’ve always got to like a team returning the majority of their front seven. If the Heels get more pressure on the opposing QB, they could be scary dominant. 

The Prediction

8-4. Not crazy about all those road games and improved Miami and FSU on the schedule, but UNC should be good enough to take down enough quality teams along the way. 

Highlights Set to Unfortunate Music