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The Five Big Questions About the 2011 Football Season

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As UNC takes the field on Saturday to open the season, here are the five big questions facing the Tar Heels in 2011:

1. Just how good is Bryn Renner?

On Saturday, UNC will be replacing a quarterback who was essentially a four-year starter and who owns nearly every passing record at the school with a redshirt sophomore who has one career completion. On the other hand, the hype surrounding Bryn Renner has been huge ever since he arrived in Chapel Hill and the anecdotal results from the spring and from training camp seem to indicate the praise is well-earned. It would appear the offense will be as good as Renner can take them. It has been 13 years since UNC had a 1,000-yard running back so it will be crucial for Renner to get off to a good start and adjust quickly to game experience.

2. Can UNC's running backs stay healthy and become a key part of the offense again?

The Tar Heels boast an experienced, bruising back in senior Ryan Houston, a serious scat back in redshirt freshman Gio Bernard, and a versatile back in converted QB A.J. Blue. The problem is, all three missed the 2010 season. Blue and Bernard were injured while Houston chose to redshirt after it took forever for him to be cleared in the NCAA mess. But Houston spent much of the off-season injured and has only recently returned to full-contact practice. Three talented but injury-prone running backs makes fans hopeful they can stay healthy (a key issue in 2010) and give UNC the ground game necessary to take some pressure off Renner.

3. Is this finally the breakout year for the offensive line?

Each season for the past few years, the offensive line was supposed to be a strength for the Heels and every season it seems as if that unit is a disappointment. UNC has an absolutely monstrous line and if anyone doubts what a good O-line can do for a team, all you needed to see was Wisconsin's front line open holes and protect Russell Wilson on Thursday night. UNC improved its pass protection last year but really needs to run block to help establish the ground game Carolina so desperately needs. With all five starters over 300 pounds and three of them listed at 6-7, I would hope they could move somebody out of the way.

4.Can the defensive backfield get the job done?

One of the positives to come out of last year's football unpleasantness is that, between NCAA issues and injury, a lot of inexperienced guys got key snaps in the secondary. The problem is that injury and inexperience continue to plague the D-backs. UNC will play JMU without two potential starters in Charles Brown (NCAA) and Jabari Price (injury) and will likely start a freshman in Tim Scott or Todd Harrelson, who was just moved to the position an hour and a half ago. The good news is that UNC's schedule does not feature pass-happy teams until October, but this group must grow up quickly and stay healthy.

5. What about Everett Withers?

Nothing like being a pretty much unknown coordinator thrust into a major college coaching job a week before the season, but that's the task Everett Withers faces. At least so far Withers has appeared both confident and competent and seems to be rising to the task. But questions obviously remain about his tactical abilities and how he will guide this team through a potentially bizarre season.

In addition, the elephant in the room is whether this season is an audition for Withers as the permanent head coach and does his employment situation become a distraction for this team down the stretch? Ideally Withers will just lead the team to the best of his ability and let the chips fall where they may. But the 24/7 sports news monster will want its pound of flesh as the season progresses; if UNC is stumbling, the "dead coach walking" stories will flow, but if UNC is winning, the "has Withers earned the job" theme will emerge. I know as a fan, I would much rather be debating whether or not he has earned the job at the end of the season because that will mean Carolina has had some measure of success.

In any case, the answers to these questions will hopefully be found starting Saturday afternoon shortly after 3:30.