SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  North Carolina Tar Heels

 
The Lowdown
Coach: John Bunting (3rd year, 11-14)
2002 record: 3-9 (none)
ACC finish: 8th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 102.5 ypg
(9th in ACC. 106th in nation)
Pass: 266.6 ypg (1st, 22nd)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 221.2 ypg (9th, 111th)
Pass: 231.3 ypg (6th, 80th)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR  Derrele Mitchell  So. 
WR  82  Brandon Russell  Sr. 
LT   76   Willie McNeill   Jr.  
LG   78   Kyle Ralph   So.  
C   72   Jason Brown   Jr.  
RG   77   Jeb Terry   Sr.  
RT   75   Skip Seagraves   Jr.  
TE  89  Bobby Blizzard  Sr. 
QB   4   Darian Durant   Jr.  
FB  44  Madison Hedgecock  Jr. 
TB   20   Jacque Lewis   Jr.  
Defense (8)
DE   43   Jocques Dumas   Jr.  
DT   94   Donti Coats   Sr.  
DT   95   Chase Page   Jr.  
DE   80   Tommy Davis   So.  
SLB   37   Clarence Gaddy   Jr.  
MLB   53   Doug Justice   So.  
WLB  11  Clay Roberson  Sr. 
CB  Derrick Johnson  Sr. 
CB   18   Michael Waddell   Sr.  
SS  26  Michael Harris  Sr. 
FS   24   Dexter Reid   Sr.  
Special Teams
K   10   Dan Orner   Sr.  
P   33   John Lafferty   Sr.  
KR  29  Wallace Wright  So. 
PR  Jarwarski Pollock  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Florida State 
Sept. 6  Syracuse 
Sept. 20  at Wisconsin 
Sept. 27  at NC State 
Oct. 4  Virginia 
Oct. 11  at East Carolina 
Oct. 18  Arizona State 
Oct. 25  at Clemson 
Nov. 1  at Maryland 
Nov. 8  Wake Forest 
Nov. 15  at Georgia Tech 
Nov. 22  Duke 
The Tar Heels' 3-9 season left room for all kinds of questions -- questions not only about the talent level, but also about coach John Bunting and his staff, who are entering their third season. Bunting -- a straight-ahead guy -- won't settle for that kind of performance this year, even against a difficult schedule.

"We've got to be better," Bunting said, "and we will be."

Bunting already got some better players, landing a top-15 recruiting class. Whether that will pay off in 2003 remains to be seen.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

North Carolina has a chance to upset almost anybody because of the right arm of quarterback Darian Durant. He's healthy -- and hungry. "I'm as comfortable as I've been since I got here," Durant said.

Comfort is perhaps Durant's main attribute. At 5-foot-11, he's not physically intimidating, but he makes the right choice more often than not. He's already UNC's career leader in completion percentage and should dominate the school's passing record book by the end of this season.

Durant's targets, though, must come through. Jarwarski Pollock has exceptional ability after the catch, but at 5-foot-8, he can't get to everything thrown his way. Derrele Mitchell has a chance to be the go-to guy, but he must cut down on drops. Coaches hope one of three blue-chip, true freshmen -- Adarius Bowman, Jesse Holley or Mike Mason -- immediately develops into a stud.

At tailback, look for Kentucky transfer Chad Scott to push incumbent starter Jacque Lewis. The Heels have all five starters on the offensive line back, anchored by center Jason Brown. Bunting wants to "run the ball downhill," but he needs the line to be good and one of the backs -- possibly true freshman Ronnie McGill -- to step forward.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Pick a defensive category and Carolina was at or near the bottom of it in the ACC in 2002. But eight starters return, led by stand-out free safety Dexter Reid, who was second in the nation in tackles with 13.8 tackles per game.

The problems start up front, where there isn't a single impact player. True freshman Melik Brown showed promise at outside linebacker after enrolling in the spring. The Tar Heels return four starters on the defensive line, but they had only five sacks among them last year.

The secondary should be better. Cedric Holt could be a star at cornerback. Another corner, Michael Waddell, was supposed to be a star himself, but he'll be pushed by junior college transfer Lionell Green as well as senior Derrick Johnson.

It's hard to imagine the Heels giving up more yards or more points than they did last year, when they allowed 452.4 yards and 35.1 points per game.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Kicker Dan Orner has leg strength; he booted three 50-yard field goals in one game. But punter John Lafferty is laughable: His 36.6-yard average puts Carolina in a field-position struggle more often than not. The return game should be helped by the arrival of the speedy Green.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

All kinds of things went wrong for the Tar Heels in 2002, so the first step will be forgetting all of that -- to a point. "We've got to learn from it, too," guard Jeb Terry said. "We don't want to go through that again."

They must start by protecting Durant -- the most important Tar Heel. If UNC is going to win multiple games, it will have to win a few shootouts, and that'll be hard to do if Durant goes down. In the four games he missed with a broken thumb in 2002, Carolina was outscored 172-33.

Durant can't do it all. Carolina's front seven on defense must be vastly improved -- and opportunistic. UNC created an ACC-low 15 turnovers, a statistic that will have to turn around if the Heels are to win.

Best-case scenario: An early win over Syracuse provides some confidence. Worst-case scenario: They start 0-5 and head to a repeat of 2002.

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