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.
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.
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)
- 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
|Date||Opponent||Last yr's result (if played)|
|Sept. 3||at Georgia|
|Sept. 10||at Illinois||W, 48-14|
|Sept. 17||James Madison|
|Sept. 24||Pittsburgh*||W, 26-19|
|Oct. 1||at Florida State*|
|Oct. 8||Virginia Tech*||W, 30-27|
|Oct. 15||at Miami*||W, 59-21|
|Oct. 22||at Virginia*||W, 26-13|
|Nov. 5||Georgia Tech*||W, 38-31|
|Nov. 10||at Duke*||W, 66-31|
|Nov. 19||The Citadel|
|Nov. 25||North Carolina State*||W, 45-34|
|* ACC game|
North Carolina: The last 5 years
|2015||11-3 / 8-0||— / 15th||Russell Athletic Bowl, L|
|2014||6-7 / 4-4||23rd / —||Quick Lane Bowl, L|
|2013||7-6 / 4-4||— / —||Belk Bowl, W|
|2012||8-4 / 5-3||— / —||No bowl|
|2011||7-6 / 3-5||— / —||Independence Bowl, L|
|Total||39-26, 24-16||4 bowl games (1-3)|
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. 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.
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)