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UNC Football: Five big questions for the 2019 season

The Heels are a completely different team this year, and for the most part, it’s for the better.

Western Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We here at Tar Heel Blog have been working hard to bring you previews of each position for the 2019 football team over the last few weeks. It’s been a lot of information to take in, and we have a lot more to cover right up to the Heels’ first game against South Carolina.

However, there are a number of readers out there that may fall under one of these categories:

A.) You may have had a hard time keeping up with each positional preview.

B.) You may want a bite-sized preview of UNC’s football season instead of multiple large sections.

C.) You enjoy reading about football so much that you are willing to take in every bit of information possible.

Whatever your reason may be, we are here to give you a brief overview of the 2019 football season by answering five big questions for the Tar Heels. We will talk about the most important players on offense, defense, the changes that have transpired since last season, the game that is likely circled on Mack Brown’s calendar, and finally, my prediction for how the Heels finish the season.

Who is the most important player on offense this season?

Sam Howell is the most important player to this point for a few reasons. First, the quarterback depth chart had numerous problems last season, with their biggest problem being the performance of Nathan Elliott. Their struggles were a rather large part of the team’s lack of success. This year, the quarterback position may be even more important due to the installment of Phil Longo’s Air Raid offense. Howell has all of the tools to get the job done, but he’s also a true freshman, and with that we should expect some up and down play throughout the season. Finally, now that he is practicing with the first team, his ability to maintain his position will be the difference between maintaining some stability or needing to cycle through quarterbacks throughout the season. The Heels’ offense will only go as far as he can take them, assuming that he does indeed become the starter.

Who is the most important player on defense this season?

Senior nose tackle Aaron Crawford is looking to bounce back from the injury that ended his season last year. With only so many veteran players starting on the defensive side of the ball, Crawford’s production is going to be key to helping the Heels do everything they want to do in their new-look defense. He, alongside Jason Strowbridge, should be a force on the defensive line, and will hopefully help the team create more havoc than we’ve been accustomed to in recent years.

What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

In a word, everything. Mack Brown’s return to campus changed the entire face of Carolina football, from the turf, to the practice facilities, to the coaching staff, and even the training staff. The only similarities to last year can be found in the players from the Larry Fedora era that decided to not transfer, but all in all we will see a brand new team, a brand new attitude, and hopefully all of that will translate into more success.

What is the most important game on the schedule, and why?

NC State is far and away the most important game of the 2019 season. While other games have their own level of importance, the game against State checks all of the boxes in terms of proximity, recent history, recruiting, and yes, the high level of animosity between fanbases. Whether you consider them a rival or not, the reality is that the Heels need to take back the state of North Carolina if they want any type of success on the gridiron, as State and Duke got the best of Larry Fedora at the end of his tenure. A win against the Wolfpack would be a warning shot to the entire state that Mack is truly back.

What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

My prediction is that the Heels will finish the season 6-6, managing to go bowling for the first time since 2016. I’m not going to predict anything about the bowl game, because the lower-tier bowls are impossible to imagine right now. As I mentioned above, there is so much about this team that is brand new. I have a hard time believing that everything will gel in such a perfect way that Mack Brown can get the team above .500 with such a difficult schedule as the one he’s been handed in his first year back. While it doesn’t sound ideal, I see finishing the regular season at .500 as a big step in the right direction given how the past couple of seasons have gone. This will be a season that will have a lot of ups and downs, but ultimately the most important thing will be riding whatever momentum is built into what should be a stronger 2020 season.