I am not sure I am buying this fully but college football guru Phil Steele does not see UNC's potential offensive issues as an obstacle to winning the title....the national title....um...okay.
But college football expert Phil Steele, who has built an empire with his well known preview magazines, doesn't think the QB position (about 2:20 in) is going to keep Carolina from being a contender.
"With a defense like North Carolina has on the field, you can almost play the game where you don't turn the ball over and don't make mistakes, let the defense win the games," Steele told the Insiders on 620 The Buzz.
And by contender, he doesn't just mean in the ACC. He means contend to win it all. He's boldly predicting the Heels to beat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Kick Off in Atlanta.
"In fact there's only two games this year I have them an underdog, at Miami and at Florida State. I'm looking at a 10-2 season for UNC and they make my list of surprise teams. They're a dark horse national title contender if they can win those two tough road games."
Steele also added that even though the defense is going to be the obvious dominant unit, he still sees the offense as much improved.
"Whether Yates holds on or whether Bryn Renner comes in and takes his job, I think you'll see improved quarterback play."
Okay, so Steele is not just blindly saying UNC can get by with a QB who throws the ball over his receivers' heads and gives up 99 yard pick sixes. He does say he thinks the offense will be improved over last season which should be enough since the defense will have like 14 NFL first round picks or something. Patrick Stevens at D1scourse points out(via a nice chart) that T.J. Yates is not that far outside what other ACC title winning starting QBs have done this decade.
It's funny. Yates' completion percentage from a season ago would rank fourth on that list. His yardage trumps half of those guys. His touchdown total was more than the last four title winning QBs. And his interception total ... well, that's better left untouched.
(It's also crucial to mention Taylor had 738 yards and seven touchdowns rushing in '08, while Nesbitt had 1,037 yards and 18 TDs on the ground last year).
The overall point here is Yates isn't a massive outlier among guys who have hauled home a conference title of late, which might surprise Carolina fans.
Sure, he probably won't be an NFL star (who on that list above was) and he still needs to get better --- cutting down on those 15 interceptions would be a nice start. But Carolina's offensive problems can't all be pinned on him, and the Tar Heels need to improve everywhere as a unit and not just under center. If that happens, Butch Davis' team might not just be a trendy pick. It could be an accurate one.
A good, healthy offensive line will help. A full season of top line production from the Shaun Draughn-Ryan Houston combo will also help. Greg Little is being touted as a possible All-ACC performer and if Erik Highsmith or Jhey Boyd can do the job on the other side of the field along side Zach Pianalto at tight end, suddenly you realize UNC has potential weapons. Are there still glaring questions about how these weapons will pan out? Sure, but it is not like UNC does not have the ingredients. It might be more about how the ingredients are prepared than anything else. And yes I am looking at you John Shoop.
Steele goes on to layout UNC's path to at least ten wins with the possibility the Heels could(and let me emphasize that we are talking about could here) end up 12-0. Steele pegs to two Florida road games as the Heels' biggest pitfalls assuming they handle LSU in the opener and take care of business at home vs the likes of Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. If the Heels go 6-2 in the ACC they will be right in the thick of the ACC title game hunt. Under that scenario Miami would have to lose three times and both Tech lose at least twice.
At this point it is all speculation but it is nice to be able to realistically imagine scenarios that put UNC in the top ten and not sound like we are all nuts.