#23 North Carolina vs Liberty, 6:00 PM, ESPN3
After a relatively quiet offseason that included a little bump in the road this past week, the Tar Heels are set to open the 2014 football season against the Flames of Liberty.
Obviously the biggest question on everyone's mind heading into this game is who will start at quarterback and how much the two competing candidates will play during the course of the game? Junior Marquise Williams brings the experience element to the table. He was a key cog in turning around a 1-5 start in 2013 and led the team to a win in the Belk Bowl. Williams clearly has the skills and assuming he shows improvement over last season should be a capable starter. On the other hand, redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky was recruited by Larry Fedora and clearly a fit for the system. Chances are Trubisky and Williams are fairly even in the skills department with the latter enjoying an edge in experience.
That edge probably means Williams gets the starting nod. From there the question is how much Fedora and offensive coordinator Seth Littrell utilize a dual quarterback system or not. Even then, it is unclear how much can be gleaned from a game against Liberty. This type of season opener, against a team UNC should win handily against, lends itself to a little more experimentation and outright scripting of the game plan. If both quarterbacks play, it is possible Fedora has a rotation in mind already and will stick to that for just to see how each player responds.
In fact the whole game is more or less about kicking the tires on the various position units. It marks the debut of freshman Elijah Hood who has been highly touted since arriving in Chapel Hill. The running back position is another place where there will be multiple players looking to make a mark as are the receivers. Jack Tabb will look to fill the void left by Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis is poised for a huge season. Davis begins the season with 15 career touchdowns, just six behind the asterisked record held by Hakeem Nicks. Davis had 10 touchdown catches a year ago, two short of the season record at UNC.
The offensive and defensive lines, which are points of concern, will be worth watching just to see how both perform. Considering the uncertainty, this type of game is beneficial in helping those units "get their feet wet" against a less daunting opponent, especially given the experience concerns. The same could have been said for the secondary but with four players out this will be a game where UNC will simply try to "get by" with shuffling personnel around to fill spots.
The other notable player to watch will be Ryan Switzer. Obviously Tar Heel punt returns will be viewed with great expectation and it will be intriguing to see how Liberty(and others) opt to deal with Switzer. Do they opt for kicking out-of-bounds? Ensuring the kicks are higher while sacrificing length or opting not to punt at all at certain points on the field. Switzer's role there as well as how he might be used in the offense introduces a dynamic element to the Tar Heel offense.
In short, this game should not be a struggle for the Tar Heels though first games are prone to weird occurrences and sloppy play at times. Still, UNC's history under Larry Fedora versus FCS opponents is a high-scoring and dominant one. The Heels clocked Elon 62-0 in the first game of the Fedora era in 2012. Last season the Heels dropped Old Dominion 80-20 giving UNC a 142-20 scoring edge over FCS schools in two games. In all likelihood the results on Saturday won't be much different.
UNC 59 Liberty 17