Just how great can this man be this season?
I'm not usually the type to get excited about ACC Media Days, the annual press, coach, and player meet-and-greet taking place Sunday and Monday at the Grandover Resort. It's two days of golf and anodyne questions; I've already heard enough Larry Fedora press conferences to know I'm not going to find his brand of coachspeak any more interesting than anyone else. Bryn Renner and Kevin Reddick will be the Tar Heel players present, but I don't foresee them saying anything earth-shatterring either. No, I'm invested in Media Days solely for the preseason poll, because it's rapidly becoming clear that no one has a strong opinion on how Carolina is going to perform this year.
Some of that is a new coaching staff, instituting a new offensive scheme; the range of outcomes from that move s pretty wide. But it goes deeper than that. The level of talent will be hard t judge, with so much youth at so many key positions. The change to a stable administration will have over last year's interim, in-flux coaching staff must be taken into account. And the fact that UNC is ineligible for a bowl game gives the press all the more reason to put the Tar Heels out of their mind. Why consider a scenario like last season's Southern Cal team anyway?
A month or so ago when the ratings for this year's EA NCAA '13 game came out, I said that it was a pitch-perfect summary of the conventional wisdom of Carolina (and State) football — identical and average numbers for offense, defense, and overall, but UNC has slightly more prestige than the Wolfpack. The mothership, using Football Outsiders' predictions (there's a free preview of the ACC Atlantic, by the way) knocked all those numbers down a few pegs to list the Heels as third in the Coastal, a perfectly average positioning I could easily see the preseason polls replicating next week. But since then the talk has been encouraging.
First, video-game simulations started popping up with UNC winning the ACC. (This sadly, did not convince the world at large to stop writing about their video game results.) Then, I flipped over to read Category Six's ACC previews, which crystalized a few things for me. Giovani Bernard could very well be the best running back in the conference as a sophomore. Bryn Renner is just outside the elite level of ACC quarterbacks (Logan Thomas, Taj Boyd, Mike Glennon, and EJ Manuel) and has the greatest capacity for improvement; his receiving corps might be behind only Clemson and FSU. And the defense is strong as well. With all components of this team ranked between first and fifth — UNC also gets Casey Barth back on special teams, even if the Groza award overlooked that fact — you begin to wonder if the only ceiling this team has is the self- and NCAA-imposed one?
But of course, I get like this every year. My optimism for UNC football knows no bounds. I leave it to Larry Fedora to reel me back in:
"We've only had 15 practices, and we're still trying to figure out who our players are and where they're going to fit in the offense. At this point we've got about half a playbook in, but we've got enough offense in to get through a season. Hopefully they'll overcome the coaching and we'll have a little success."
Half a playbook and a we should be able to get through the season is not going to propel this team to the top of the ACC. But every coach is going to talk down their team in the preseason, toss in the false modesty and hope to take everyone by surprise. I just need to focus more on this kind of talk and less on the Giovanni Bernards shattering records in my head.