After taking a look at the reasons for hope that Carolina can turn around a dismal beginning to the 2013 season, there is equal reason to believe that the slow start is a harbinger of things to come. UNC is clearly out of the running for any impact in the Coastal Division, and the remaining six games after Miami will be toss-ups at best, as the Tar Heels are unlikely to be prohibitive favorites in any of them. After a sterling 8-4 season in Larry Fedora's first year, it would seem Carolina is taking a huge step backwards this year, especially given the talent and experience at quarterback and receiver positions.
With that being said, here are three reasons to be down on the Heels down the stretch:
1. The defense is who we thought they were. In other words, awful. Two of the worst statistical defensive performances in program history have come in the past four games in Kenan Stadium (the Georgia Tech game last year and the ECU debacle this year). The defense was slipping in the second half of last year and only the high-powered offense and key special teams play kept Carolina above water. There were no significant additions to the defense in the off-season and injuries decimated the depth to the point that walk-ons and converted offensive players were either starting or getting key snaps.
Add to this the fact that the defense still is tackling poorly and playing bad angles, not getting the job done to the point that defensive coordinator Vic Koenning chipped a tooth and called out his defense publicly. Tar Heel fans have been waiting for four years for this defense to get better, and it's clear Bruce Carter ain't walking through that door this season.
2. The offensive line is terrible. After developing into a real team strength in 2012 behind three NFL draft picks and a potential All-American candidate at left tackle, the 2013 O-line has been a hot mess. Sure it helps to have an NFL-caliber tailback as the Heels did last season, but when Gio Bernard was hurt last season, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris were able to step up. Behind this current group, which can't seem to block air consistently, the Carolina rushing game, which still includes Blue and Morris, has been non-existent. Bryn Renner has also eaten as much turf in the first four games he played as he did all of last season, which has contributed to UNC's offensive woes as well.
Kiaro Holts and Jarrod James, who were expected to be key contributors up front, have been huge disappointments. Carolina is starting two freshmen on the O-line and the depth is simply not there. Given the defensive woes, UNC really needed the offense to step up and that is not going to happen behind sub-par offensive line play.
3. The effects of the uncertainty and sanctions are now playing out. Brian did a superb job here of laying out the recruiting and attrition that has taken place in the UNC program but the simple truth is the swirl of smoke from the dumpster fire that was UNC football in 2010 and 2011 has finally started to manifest. A number of players in the last few classes simply have not panned out as predicted, and Carolina has had to deal with reduced recruiting classes last year and this one, with one more to go. The most immediate impact is on UNC's depth, or more accurately, quality depth. When players are hurt, or don't pan out, there aren't as many talented guys waiting in the wings. Couple that with the number of players UNC potentially missed out on given the program's uncertainty in 2010 and 2011, and it starts to show in 2013 and 2014.
The concern here is that it will likely get worse before it gets better. Fedora and his staff have shored up recruiting and Carolina is finding itself back in the top 20 in recruiting according to most services. But with the holes UNC has, some of those recruits will likely find themselves playing sooner rather than being allowed to redshirt and develop with time.
In a way, Carolina fans were spoiled as the 2012 team likely overachieved, particularly given how bad the defense was. Water finds its own level, so some slippage should have been expected this year but the defense hasn't improved and the offense is sputtering, so UNC is behind the sticks in that case. The only hope for the three things listed here is to minimize the impact and hope that some other things line up for Carolina to cobble together some wins here and there. Otherwise it could be a long and dreary October and November.