In light of the ACC Championship game this weekend, I've been thinking back to what UNC's season might have been, had agents and runners and rogue tutors not met with UNC athlete-idiocy to create the small disaster we suffered through every time Dick Baddour appeared in the news. Even before Marvin Austin first brought the NCAA to town, Carolina wasn't expected to finish any higher than second in the Atlantic. The offense was highly suspect, and even a defense full of 1st round draft picks couldn't save them.
Ironically, the offense turned out just fine, despite the loss of Greg Little, Ryan Houston and Devon Ramsey, as well as a struggling offensive line. It was rarely stelar, and finished in the middle of the ACC pack in most categories, but the averaged 24 points a game and T.J. Yates rewrote the UNC record book. So how would things have gone had the Heels had the full contingent they expected at the start of the season?
Offensively, of course, there wouldn't be much change. Dwight Jones performed better than I've ever seen Greg Little manage. Johnny White and then Anthony Elzy were sufficient replacements for Ryan Houston, who was always more of a short-yardage fullback anyway; they may have converted a couple more red zone field goals into touchdowns late in the season, but other than that not much would change.
On defense, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn were missed on the line, of course. But their replacements did an admirable job. The secondary was hardest hit, with three players lost for the season and another two that missed four and six games respectively. The loss here also pulled players off the kick coverage teams to fill the defensive holes; you have to think that special teams would be much better without the suspensions. So how does UNC fare in their five losses if everyone was eligible and on the straight and narrow?
The LSU game is a certain win. UNC special teams gave up one punt return touchdown from Patrick Peterson and a host of other long returns. A full secondary probably doesn't give up the 50-yard touchdown run and 51-yard TD reception. You can never underestimate what Les Miles might pull out of his bag of crazy, but I don't think a victory was in the grass-chewing cards.
Georgia Tech is a tougher call. Even with a full defense in 2009, the Yellow Jackets managed 24 points, and the Heels have never gotten a grasp of Paul Johnson's option. T.J. Yates did lead the offense to 24 points this year – let's call this one a draw for now.
Miami is the other tough one, as it's the game the offense struggled the most in. I'd like to think UNC's defense at it's best could have rattled Jacory Harris more, maybe turn a touchdown drive or two into an interception. They'd have to turn that turnover into a pick six, however, because there's a twenty-three point deficit to make up. It's possible, but not particularly likely.
The Virginia Tech game has a better chance of being a win. One Hokie touchdown was a direct result of the flubbed kick return by Da'Norris Searcy; two more were from breakdowns in the secondary. Heck, if Ryan Houston was around Elzy may have had the chance to fumble late near the goal line. The Heels may have even gotten to Tyrod Taylor a couple more times as well.
The last loss, to N.C. State, is possibly the surest win of all. With everyone, T.J. Graham doesn't make it 87 yards to score on a punt return; Russell Wilson doesn't have the time to pull off the third down conversion that keeps the absurd drive alive at the end of the third. State had a ot of things go their way in that game, and this may have restored the balance.
So that leaves UNC at 10-2 or 11-1, a five game winning season to close the season and probably a ranking somewhere around 12 or 13. Would they be playing this weekend in the ACCC? Depends. The win over Virginia Tech would give them a tiebreaking edge if they went 11-1; so if they squeeze out a win against GT they're in, while if they drop two were complaining on the internet about the unfairness of being the only team to face both Georgia Tech and Miami with their starting quarterbacks. And we'd be whining; it's our way.
But we're not, of course. Instead we get stories about Robert Quinn and cellphones, and get to look forward to trips to Nashville or Shreveport. What could have been, huh?