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ACC Now: UNC Football Preview

ACC Now is proactive in their previews.

2007 record: 4-8, 3-5 ACC

Returning starters: Offense 10, Defense 8.

Quarterback?: Yes. T.J. Yates (14 TDs, 18 INTs)

Avoid in the ACC: Florida State, Wake, Clemson

Coaching situation: Butch Davis didn't make a lot of friends in his first season by angling a raise out of a four-win season but he made a lot of money. Davis' job is as far from danger as possible but there is pressure to prove he's worth the $2 million-plus salary.

Aug. 30 McNeese State
Sept. 11 @ Rutgers
Sept. 20 Va. Tech
Sept. 27 @ Miami
Oct. 4 UConn
Oct. 11 Notre Dame
Oct. 18 @ UVa
Oct. 25 Boston College
Nov. 8 Ga. Tech
Nov. 15 @ Maryland
Nov. 22 N.C. State
Nov 29 @ Duke

Spring issues: Sophomore quarterback T.J. Yates missed the entire spring recovering from shoulder surgery. Given his relative inexperience in the sport, that's valuable practice time.

Besides Yates, safety Trimane Goddard (wrist), tackle Kyle Jolly (foot) and linebacker Chase Rice (ankle) missed the spring sessions, which doesn't exactly foster continuity, especially for a young team with so many players back.

The good news is those players will be ready for August and a year removed from the lame-duck finish with John Bunting, the Heels are the only Coastal Division program, besides Virginia Tech, not breaking in a new coach, new quarterback or both.

The Heels need better to play on defense and while they only lost three starters, two were big — DT Kentwan Balmer (first-round pick, San Francisco) and leading tackler Durell Mapp. Mapp made just about every play for a weak linebacking corps, that was often reduced to just two LBs in favor or nickel package. UNC needs Bruce Carter to offset Mapp's absence.

On offense, the passing game will be strong as Yates becomes more consistent, and with the help of junior receiver Hakeem Nicks (74 catches), but the running game still has issues. Just because Greg Little, who played the first 10 games at receiver, rushed for 158 yards against Duke in the season-finale, it doesn't mean the running game, which ranked 107th nationally, is fixed. Little has to hold up over a full season and sophomores Anthony Elzy and Ryan Houston also have to be more productive.

Fall outlook: It's possible UNC could start 1-3 and still finish 8-4. That's indicative of both how good the Heels' could be in Butch Davis' second season and just how bad the Coastal Division is.

After a I-AA opener, UNC goes to Rutgers, gets Virginia Tech at home and then goes to Miami. There's no reason they couldn't win at Miami — they beat the Canes at home last season — but until UNC proves it can win on the road, those coin-toss games have to be considered losses.

The Heels went 0-6 on the road in 2007 and have lost 13 of 14 road games overall and 20 straight outside the state of North Carolina. The Heels play Miami, Virginia, Maryland and Duke on the road in the ACC.

After Notre Dame, which also won four games in 2007, visits on Oct. 11, the Heels close with six ACC games they'll have a chance to win, even at Virginia where they never win.

The Heels also avoid what could be the top three teams in the Atlantic Division so the schedule sets up for Davis to make a big improvement, at least to 7-5. If not, the Rams Club should ask for a refund.

Folks cannot really let that raise business go can they?  I understand the logic but at the same time everyone except for NC State message board people understand UNC did not change Davis' salary package because he won four games but rather because his market value seemed to change.  And it is also forgotten that most of the money for that raise came from future retention bonuses which were being set aside anyway.

But I digress...

If there was one singular point made in this preview I would deem the difference between 5-7 and 7-5 it is whether UNC can win on the road or not.  Giglio makes the point that any coin toss game UNC plays versus a fellow I-A school, especially in the ACC, should be considered a loss until UNC proves they can win away from the state of North Carolina.  Hopefully this season will end the trend of road losses UNC has endured.  It helps that the Heels play only five games away from Chapel Hill.  One non-conference game at Rutgers and then the four obligatory ACC matchups at Miami, Virginia, Maryland and Duke.  We can go ahead and scratch UVa off as a loss since Charlottesville is to the football team what Atlanta is to the basketball team.

I commented last week that I thought UNC could end up 1-5 in the first six games based on the schedule.  I still think that is true, especially if someone has not figured out how to win close games.  I am really hoping the football team does the same thing the basketball team did this past season and figure out how to win the tight games since I think UNC will see it's share of them. Of course UNC will also be breaking in a new FG kicker which might create issues if it comes down to a game winning kick.

Giglio hits all the key points: Yates needs to be consistent.  A running game must be found in Greg Little and the backup RBs.  The defense needs to find some guys to step up and play huge since most of the starters return but they also lost Kentwan Balmer and Durrell Mapp who often made their presence felt.

Fall practice will tell us more and playing Rutgers-VT-Miami with 2 of 3 on the road will make fore a really enlightening September.