Rivals.com has been rolling through the 120 Division I-A teams which finds the Heels ranked 28th for the upcoming season.
North Carolina seemed ready to play for an ACC title midway through last season in Davis' second year on the job, but stumbled down the stretch with three losses in its last four games. The Tar Heels could be better this season, but so is the rest of the Coastal Division. North Carolina needs Yates to stay healthy and must get breakthrough seasons from at least a couple of receivers. The Tar Heels might be good enough to win the Atlantic Division, but they instead have to fight it out with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami in the Coastal. That's the main reason they're probably a year away from making a serious run at the ACC championship.
Interestingly enough, 28th sounds about right considering we have zero idea how the receiving corps is going to perform and if T.J. Yates can be more accurate with his throws than he has been. Yates also has to stay injury free which he has yet to do. On the way to giving UNC a C-plus on offense, Rivals fails to make mention of the running backs. Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston will be a key part of the offense. The way this article reads it gives the impression UNC will be chucking the football every down and if the receivers do not pan out then life will end shortly thereafter or when basketball season starts, whichever comes first. Not that I do not think the receivers are a huge concern, they are. However no college offense can be solely dependent on throwing the football. Draughn and Houston will need to be productive or else opposing defenses are going to fluster Greg Little and Dwight Jones in the secondary while trying their best to give Mike Paulus some quality time at QB.
The defense is expected to be the bread and butter of the 2009 Tar Heels with nine returning starters. The problem is I am not convinced the defensive coaching is all that. I still get pissed off when I recall the way UNC handed UVa the win in Charlottesville with that inept prevent defense. Rivals also makes a fair point about the lack of QB pressure from the Tar Heel front seven. Opposing QBs have had time to order pizza and get it delivered because Everett Withers decided that it was better to not pressure the QB so much. That needs to change and hopefully it will since most of the defensive coaches have been replaced for various reasons. That still does not speak to whatever scheme Withers decides to use but if continue to see the same no QB pressure, prevent crap we saw last season, Butch Davis might want to think about a personnel change. The defense will be the strength of this team because of the experience residing on the side of the ball which means it is a known commodity. The offense is less so and if UNC struggles to score points, the hope will rest on a defense to keep the other team out of the endzone.
The schedule is not particularly daunting but having to I-AA teams will do that. And contrary to Rivals ability to actuall research UNC's past schedule, the Heels have played ECU twice since 2001.