When the North Carolina football team takes the field this fall it will look quite a bit different than the team we saw play in Kenan Stadium last. Many of the key contributors of the last two fairly successful Tar Heel teams have graduated and/or moved on to the NFL.
For the Heels, this upcoming season may be more of a rebuilding one than anything else. What does the future hold beyond that, though? What do the next five years hold for the program as they try to continue to build relevance?
1) Continue to gain national respect
The Tar Heels don’t want to maintain the reputation of being a basketball school who plays some football. The last couple seasons, particularly 2015, helped move the program’s reputation forward on the national stage, but there is still quite a way to go. Playing for another ACC Championship, and hopefully winning one, would go a long way toward getting more respect for the Heels on the field.
2) Build off the success of Mitch Trubisky’s early draft position
Mitch Trubisky became one of three Tar Heels to go second overall in the NFL Draft on Thursday, joining Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers. Getting a player drafted so highly (whether you agree with the Bears’ decision or not) is a great selling point for Larry Fedora and company. They can boost that it only took Mitch one year of starting in their system to skyrocket his draft stock. Having six players drafted should also help Fedora on the recruiting trail when trying to sell guys on what Carolina football can offer them.
3) Win the recruiting battles
If Larry Fedora and his assistant coaches can make it where more top guys choose to stay in state to play football by choosing to play at North Carolina over other destinations, they can quickly up the quality of product on the field. There will always be competition for the best guys from in-state schools and elsewhere, but being able to sell guys on Chapel Hill will be crucial in elevating the program. That will be essential in continuing to grow the reputation of the program, and the improving reputation should, in turn, convince more kids to choose Carolina blue.
4) Win the big one
Carolina has developed a bit of a reputation of choking on the big stage. It feels like they can never really win that one big program-defining game. No team wants to be the team that can’t handle the pressure of the brightest lights, and Carolina is no exception to that. This team should be in a position to change that reputation at multiple points over the next five years, and hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s likely more of a fluky thing than anything else, but the sooner that dark cloud stops looming the better.
5) Survive the rebuild
So many of the top contributors from the past few seasons won’t be back in a Carolina uniform this fall. Larry Fedora will largely be starting over when it comes to his key offensive players, and that presents a fair amount of uncertainty. All three wide receivers, the quarterback, and both running backs won’t be returning, which represents a lot of the production the Tar Heels enjoyed in two of their more successful recent seasons. The key for the team will be to not allow what could be a couple of “rebuilding” seasons to cause too much regression.
Everyone knows how dark the dark days of the football program were, and no one wants to go back there. Finding a way to keep some relevance while also basically retooling the team will be an important test. Did Fedora just luck into a perfect storm of productive assets that helped him put together such a strong season for the Tar Heels, or is he capable of molding another team into what the 2015 team was basically from scratch? Time will tell.
Where do you see the football program headed in the next five years? What predictions do you have for the team over that span of time? Let us know in the comments below.