Offensive: Senior quarterback T.J. Yates had 15 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions last season and he’s being pushed by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner. The quarterback, whoever he is, will be working with an experience corps of receivers, paced by senior Greg Little (62 catches, 724 yards). The Tar Heels need a more consistent running back and senior Shaun Draughn must lead the way. Four starters return to the offensive line.
Defensive: Even with the suspension of standout tackle Marvin Austin for the opener against LSU, North Carolina has one of the nation’s most formidable and athletic defensive units. Junior defensive end Robert Quinn is a terror — with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season. The linebacking trio — senior Quan Sturdivant, sophomore Kevin Reddick and senior Bruce Carter — boasts sideline-to-sideline intensity. The secondary returns four starters, led by senior free safety Deunta Williams (12 career interceptions) and senior cornerback Kendric Burney, who are each entering their fourth season as starters.
Specialists: The Tar Heels are very capable. Junior place-kicker Casey Barth connected on 21 of 25 field-goal attempts last season. Senior punter Grant Shallock averaged 40.3 yards. Searcy was fifth nationally in punt-return yardage (14.6).
Coaching: Butch Davis enters his fourth season largely treading water (20-18) in his first three seasons at North Carolina. But the Tar Heels have clearly become a bigger factor nationally, especially in the recruiting game, so they could be poised to pursue an ACC championship.
Heisman hopefuls: There are no realistic candidates this season for the Tar Heels.
Overview: North Carolina definitely is not playing a cupcake schedule (LSU, plus non-conference games against Rutgers and East Carolina), so the challenge is formidable. But the Tar Heels have consistently upgraded their talent level. Davis’ efforts have been somewhat thwarted by injuries so far. If things break right, North Carolina should be a contender in the ACC Coastal Division.
Next up: No. 16 Arkansas
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
About 325 former Penn State players, among them Kerry Collins and Paul Posluszny, have signed a statement supporting the lawsuit filed by the family of former coach Joe Paterno.
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