Countdown to Kickoff: North Carolina Tar Heels
Fedora's Heels In A Hurry to Open New Era
North Carolina's football program begins a new era on Sept. 1, when the Tar Heels' host in-state foe Elon at Kenan Stadium. New head coach Larry Fedora brings a distinctively different style, featuring a wide-open spread offense which plays faster, and one the Tar Heels hope is more productive. Fedora's offenses averaged almost 12 more plays per game in compiling 34-19 record at Southern Miss than UNC ran in 2011. With marquee talents such as junior quarterback Bryn Renner (10th nationally in passing efficiency in 2011) and running back Giovanni Bernard (first-team All-ACC after 1,253 yards and 13 TDs) on hand, plus four of five returning starters on its offensive line, UNC's offense should be among the most potent in the ACC this year. Though the Tar Heels won't be eligible for the ACC Championship Game or postseason play this season due to sanctions from an NCAA Investigation which has hovered over the program the past two years, the ingredients are in place for them to be a formidable spoiler to the hopes of others.
Renner was a revelation in his first season as a starter, throwing for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns. His favorite target, big-play receiver Dwight Jones, has departed, but Renner still has capable weapons in Eric Highsmith (51 grabs, 726 yards, five TDs) and deep threat Jheranie Boyd (12 of 40 career catches for touchdowns, 20.4 career yards per catch). The versatile Bernard (who caught 45 passes in addition to his ground exploits) anchors the running game with the assistance of a talented and versatile line that is led by guard Jonathan Cooper and returns starters James Hurst, Travis Bond and Brennan Williams from 2011. Cooper and Hurst both made the pre-season watch lists for the Outland Trophy. New coordinator Blake Anderson is installing a quick-hitting spread look that will place equal emphasis on the pass and run (UNC ran the ball on 54 percent of its plays last season).
The Tar Heel defense requires some rebuilding, but there is talent available. Gone are All-ACC linebacker Zach Brown and defensive end Quinton Coples, defensive tackle Tyrdeke Powell, cornerback Charles Brown and safeties Jonathan Smith and Matt Merletti from a defense that finished third in the ACC against the run (123.9 yards per game) and surrendered just 12 touchdowns on the ground. New coordinator Dan Disch is installing a 4-2-5 look, which will put the spotlight on defensive end Kareem Martin (4 sacks in 2011), defensive tackles Tim Jackson and Sylvester Williams, linebacker Kevin Reddick (73 tackles) and bandit Dion Guy. The secondary will feature CBs Jabari Price and Tim Scott alongside new starting safeties in Tre Boston, Sam Smiley and RAM Gene Robinson. PK Casey Barth, who has made 81 percent of his career FG attempts, anchors the kicking game while sophomore punter Thomas Hibbard will attempt to improve on a promising freshman season.
North Carolina will not be playing in the ACC Championship Game this season, but home games against the hopefuls from Virginia Tech, NC State, and Georgia Tech give the Tar Heels a chance to still play a major role in the title chase while developing what will be a young and talented team. The future holds good things for Larry Fedora's squad. - Charlie Sallwasser
2011 In Review
A pair of tumultuous years for North Carolina football finally came to a head last year when the school dismissed former head coach Butch Davis just days before the start of fall camp and installed defensive coordinator Everett Withers as interim head coach... Under those unsettled conditions, Withers guided UNC to a 5-1 start behind the play of QB Bryn Renner, TB Giovani Bernard and WR Dwight Jones, but the Tar Heels stumbled down the stretch, losing five of seven, to finish 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the ACC...North Carolina did earn its fourth consecutive bowl bid and a trip to the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, a 41-24 loss to Missouri... UNC named former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora as its 35th head coach on Dec. 8, 2011...Renner, who finished 10th nationally in passing efficiency in his first season as a starter, completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,086 yards and 26 TDs with only 13 interceptions...Bernard was named first-team All-ACC after rushing for 1,253 yards, a 5.2 avg., and 13 TDs...Jones led the ACC in total pass receptions and recorded the 5th-best total in ACC history with 85 catches for 1,196 yards and 12 TDs...OLB Zach Brown, who led the Tar Heels with 105 tackles (8.1/gm.) was named a 2nd-team All-America...Bernard, who was the nation's leading freshman rusher, was named a unanimous first-team Freshman All-America, while TE Eric Ebron and CB Tim Scott were each named Honorable Mention Freshman All-America.
UNC will be without nine 2011 starters and 19 lettermen including three starters on offense and six on defense...Offensively, the Tar Heels will miss big-play WR Dwight Jones, C Cam Holland and TE Christian Wilson, but it will be on defense where some work will need to be done to replace six starters who combined for 133 career starts including All-ACC LB Zach Brown and DE Quinton Coples, Honorable Mention All-ACC DT Tyrdeke Powell, CB Charles Brown and Ss Jonathan Smith and Matt Merletti.
Numbers & Notes
3rd - North Carolina sophomore TB Giovani Bernard recorded the 3rd-highest single-season rushing total by a freshman in ACC history last year, rushing for 1,253 yards. Only Virginia Tech's tandem of Ryan Williams (1,655, 2009) and Darren Evans (1,265, 2008) ran for more yards as freshmen. Bernard also had 45 pass receptions, the 10th-highest total by an ACC freshman.
9 - The number of points separating Coach Larry Fedora's Southern Miss team from a perfect season last fall. USM finished 12-2, but its two losses were by a combined total of just nine points.
11.92 - A portent of things to come? Under UNC's new head coach, Larry Fedora, Southern Miss averaged 11.92 more offense plays per game than did North Carolina last year. USM ranked 17th in total offense to 53rd for UNC. Southern Miss ran 1,042 plays in 14 games (74.42) compared to 813 plays for UNC in 13 contests (62.5).
12 - UNC senior WR Jheranie Boyd has managed only 40 pass receptions in his Tar Heel career, but 30% of them--12--of them have gone for touchdowns. Boyd has averaged 20.4 yards per catch on his 40 career receptions (816 yds.)
35 - North Carolina senior offensive guard Jonathan Cooper has started 35 games in his career for the Tar Heels, the most of any active offensive lineman in the ACC and the 5th-most of any returning ACC players.
68.3 - North Carolina junior QB Bryn Renner completed 68.3 percent of his passes last year, the 8th-best single-season mark in ACC history. Renner enters his junior season as the NCAA's most accurate active career passer in the FBS, with a career completion percentage of 68.18.
80.95 - The career field goal percentage for senior PK Casey Barth. Barth has made 51 of 63 field-goal attempts in his career and ranks 3rd nationally among all returnees in the FBS in career FG percentage.