While some observers have been disappointed with what head coach Larry Fedora has accomplished since arriving in North Carolina in 2012, I have been impressed with the progress that has been made. The Tar Heels compiled an 8-4 record in Fedora’s first season, which was the best mark since Mack Brown left the program in 1997. After defeating Cincinnati in last year’s bowl game, the Tar Heels finished with another winning record at 7-6. With fifteen returning starters and one of the best special teams units in the nation, the Tar Heels could run the table in the ACC this year.
North Carolina’s offense is guided by last year’s backup, Marquise Williams, who became the first quarterback to lead the Tar Heels in rushing (536 yards; 4.8) since Gayle Bomar in 1968. Williams also finished last season with 1,698 yards through the air (58.1%; 15-6 ratio) and is a perfect fit for new offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer’s system. The backfield is anchored by sophomore TJ Logan, who missed the first four games of last season before leading the team’s running backs in six of the last eight games (533 yards; 5.7 yards per rush). I expect greater production overall from this unit in 2014.
The bad news for North Carolina is the fact that it loses its best receiver in tight end Eric Ebron, who set the ACC record for receiving yards by a tight end. Despite that loss, receivers TJ Thorpe and Quinshad Davis should provide Marquise Williams with quality targets, and I expect increased production from this unit in 2014. One question mark surrounding North Carolina is its offensive line, which only returns 44 career starts and lost its starting center in Russell Bodine.
North Carolina’s defensive strengths are clearly its linebacking unit and secondary. Indeed, the Tar Heels welcome back every starter from last year’s linebacking corp., while returning seven of its top 9 players from the secondary. I have both units ranked in the Top 20 nationally, and I would not be surprised if these units finished the season in the Top 10. The critics of coach Fedora should also look at what he has accomplished with special teams during his coaching career. Specifically, Southern Mississippi’s special teams consistently ranked high in each of Fedora’s last three seasons with the Golden Eagles, and North Carolina possessed one of the elite special teams units last season under Fedora’s leadership. With the unit returning intact, I predict another Top 10 finish for the Tar Heels in this category.
Finally, I always like when a program enters the third year of a new head coach’s system as that is when the most improvement occurs on the field as the players are more familiar with the schemes on both sides of the ball. Head coach Fedora and defensive coordinator Dan Disch both enter their third year on North Carolina’s sidelines, which is another reason why I am so bullish on the Tar Heels in 2014.