North Carolina's Romar Morris (21), Elijah Hood (34) and Landon Turner (78) celebrate with the Victory Bell after a win over Duke last year. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 20 North Carolina

Posted July 11th, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 20 North Carolina (Related coverage: Old Navy — Former Tar Heel reunited with long, lost jersey)

The Tar Heels will contend if … new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a former Mr. Football in Ohio, provides a seamless transition from school record-setter Marquise Williams. Just as importantly, former Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, entering his second year in Chapel Hill, must continue to coax improvement out of a front seven that was trampled by enemy ballcarriers.

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INSIDE THE TAR HEELS

Coach: Larry Fedora (fifth year, 32-20)

2015: 11-3, 8-1 in ACC; lost to Baylor 49-38 in Russell Athletic Bowl

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

The key game: Oct. 15, at Miami

Hello: C Tommy Hatton, OT William Sweet, DT Aaron Crawford, LB J.B. Copeland, S Jaye Stackhouse

Goodbye: QB Marquise Williams (Green Bay Packers), OG Landon Turner (New Orleans Saints), WR Quinshad Davis (Detroit Lions), MLB Jeff Schoettmer (Saints)

Spring cleaning: For the second year in a row, no Tar Heels were drafted (only signed as free agents). That’s because most of the NFL talent is still on campus, although lacking are the elite players that populate the Clemson and Florida State rosters. UNC, which pushed Clemson to the limit in the ACC title game, had a quiet offseason and will be content to retain the favorite’s role in the Coastal Division — the other side of the bracket from the Tigers and Seminoles.

North Carolina's Elijah Hood dives over the pile for a touchdown against North Carolina A&T last season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
North Carolina’s Elijah Hood dives over the pile for a touchdown against North Carolina A&T last season. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Mitch Trubisky, 40-47-555 yards, 6/0 (2nd)

Rushing: Elijah Hood, 219-1,463-17 (1st)

Receiving: Mack Hollins, 30-745-8 (1st); Ryan Switzer, 55-697-6 (2nd)

Tackles: S Donnie Miles, 128 (1st)

Sacks: DE Mikey Bart, 6.5 (1st)

RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (9)

Offense: WR Ryan Switzer (1st team RET, 3rd team WR), OT Jon Heck (2nd), OG Caleb Peterson (2nd), RB Elijah Hood (2nd), WR Mack Hollins (3rd), C Lucas Crowley (3rd), K Nick Weiler (3rd)

Defense: CB Des Lawrence (2nd), CB M.J. Stewart (honorable mention)

FYI …

  • When last seen, the Tar Heels’ defense was manhandled for a bowl-record 646 rushing yards by a Baylor offense decimated by injuries. The Bears ran a whopping 102 plays, and wildcat QB Johnny Jefferson darted for 299 yards. But all in all, Chizik’s first year as defensive coordinator was quite the success. The Heels cut their points allowed from 39.0 to 24.5 and sliced their total yards allowed from 497.8 to 435.9. The D-line offers better depth this year, but young linebackers Ayden Bonilla and Cayson Collins are on the spot. The secondary ranked 12th nationally in pass-efficiency defense and should pick up where it left off.
  • The coaching staff and players appear extremely confident in Mitch Trubisky. Why? The redshirt junior who backed up Marquise Williams the last two years has impressed in every chance he’s had, completing 17 of 20 passes for 312 yards and four TDs in one game. He’s more accurate than Williams, sees the field well, and seems a good fit for this spread offense. Trubisky was a 2013 recruiting coup for UNC after throwing for 4,063 yards and accounting for an absurd 60 TDs as a senior at Mentor High in suburban Cleveland. Trubisky will be throwing to one of his old targets, 6-4, 245 TE Brandon Fritts of Mentor.
  • UNC is off to a fast recruiting start for 2017, currently ranked No. 9 in the 247Sports composite ratings. The Tar Heels were a respectable 35th in 2016, but North Carolina programs cannot keep the best talent at home. Only two of the top 20 state recruits signed with state schools, the Tar Heels getting both. Clemson (S.C.) raided the border for three of North Carolina’s top eight and Florida State locked down three of the top 10. Oklahoma and Stanford each plucked two of the top 20 — matched only by the Tar Heels from within the state.

North Carolina's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3at Georgia
Sept. 10at IllinoisW, 48-14
Sept. 17James Madison
Sept. 24Pittsburgh*W, 26-19
Oct. 1at Florida State*
Oct. 8Virginia Tech*W, 30-27
Oct. 15at Miami*W, 59-21
Oct. 22at Virginia*W, 26-13
Nov. 5Georgia Tech*W, 38-31
Nov. 10at Duke*W, 66-31
Nov. 19The Citadel
Nov. 25North Carolina State*W, 45-34
* ACC game

North Carolina: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201511-3 / 8-0— / 15thRussell Athletic Bowl, L
20146-7 / 4-423rd / —Quick Lane Bowl, L
20137-6 / 4-4— / —Belk Bowl, W
20128-4 / 5-3— / —No bowl
20117-6 / 3-5— / —Independence Bowl, L
Total39-26, 24-164 bowl games (1-3)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 9th (40.7 ppg)

Scoring defense: 42nd (24.5 ppg)

Passing yards: 34th (262.5 ypg)

Rushing yards: 18th (224.4 ypg)

TOP 25 SO FAR …

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Coming Tuesday. Want a hint? It’s the second Big 12 school to make an appearance on our Top 25.

BY CONFERENCE

2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Pac-12 (21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)

1 school: Big 12 (22-Oklahoma State); Mountain West (24-Boise State)

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