An Immediate Assesment of the UNC-McNeese State Game

Brandon Tate: A+

Everyone Else: D-

Not a pretty game. A win’s a win, but these guys let a I-AA opponent control the game. That has to change if Carolina wants to go bowling.

How Do You Know The Hype Machine Has Gone Too Far?

When they put a 300 yard rusher on the Preseason Doak Walker Award List. I’m flattered, and Greg Little is a very talented player. But to put his name next to James Davis, Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, P.J. Hill, Lesean McCoy and Marlon Lucky might be a wee bit premature.

The Least Predictable Team of 2008

Normally, this would be the time where I give a final predicition of how well Carolina is going to play this season, based on schedule, personnel, experience, coaching, and the rest of the conference.

But I cannot, in my heart of hearts, give a proper predicition. There is no true way, prior to the beginning of the season, to predict how my Tar Heels will fare. Whether it’s 10-2 or 2-10, any one who says they can pinpoint the 2008 season is lying.

Here’s why.

1. The Rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is just as unpredictable as we are.

Half of the conference, UNC included, is breaking a new coach they have hired within the last two years. We happen to be facing all of the other five teams (@Miami and Duke, hosting BC, Georgia Tech, and NC State). Two of our other ACC opponents have had to complete overhaul their lineup as well (Va. Tech, @UVa). The only stable team on our ACC slate is Maryland, and they finihed 6-6 in the 2007 regular season. We could finish anywhere from 7-1 to 2-6 in conference. We just don’t know.

2. Our Non-Conference Opponents.

McNeese State is the only game than I can declare victory with any level of certainty, and even that could reasonably be an upset. Our other OOC games are against two mid-level Big East teams (@Rutgers, vs. UConn) and Notre Dame, the only FBS to have had an larger roster turnover than the Tar Heels. They’re all technically beatable, but I’m certain that each of these teams also consider us beatable.

3. Our Coaching Staff.

Butch Davis and John Shoop are in their second year at Carolina, and I think we’re fairly comfortable with them. But last year’s defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, has since gone back to the NFL. In his place: Everett Withers. Will we see the Everett Withers who was a top DB coach at the University of Texas and the Tennessee Titans, or will we see the Withers that led the nation’s worst defense in 2007 at MInnesota? Only time will tell.

4. Our players.

How will T.J. Yates play in his second year? WIll Greg Little provide enough run support? Will the offensive line be a cohesive unit?  Will we have reliable linebackers and defensive ends? We have a good starting 22, but who’s behind them? At what positions will our lack of depth come back to bite us, if any? So many personnel question, all of which can only be answered by the upcoming season.

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There are way too many unkowns about this team to make an accurate prediction. While I would be ecstatic with anything 7-5 or better, I could realistically see this team finishing 11-1 or 4-8 without being completely surprised. So to maintain your sanity as a UNC football fan, I ask that you just enjoy the journey this season, and not worry too much about the ultimate destination.

The journey officially begins tomorrow night at six. Let’s do this.

2008 UNC Season Previews: Quarterback

Probable Starter: Hmmm…that’s a tough one…Joe Dailey?

Key Reserves: Mike Paulus (#7), Cam Sexton (#11).

Overview: Injury aside, the Tar Heel quarterback discussion begins and ends with T.J. Yates. Based on this fact alone, UNC is better off at QB than half the ACC, and every team in the Coastal division except for Duke and Thad Lewis. In his redshirt freshman year Yates set a single season school record with 2,655 passing yards. That may have been at least partially due to the nation’s 107th rushing offense, but the stat is impressive.

Nevertheless, Yates wasn’t particularly consistent in his freshman year. After throwing for 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his first three games, he threw for 5 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That’s going from a 3:1 TD-INT ratio to a 1:3 ratio.

Can we blame this stat on his shoulder injury, for which Yates needed surgery in the offseason? At least partially, yes. Yates said that his injury robbed him of at least ten yards when throwing the deep ball, and accuracy may have also been compromised.

But there were may other factors that led to his struggles. Another obvious factor is the lack of run support. Some of his passing touchdowns in the early games were on playaction. Without an effective running game, defenses stop biting on the fake. A subpar rushing attack also increases the incidence of obvious passing downs, which increases the likelihood for the defense to make a play. In addition, Carolina’s offensive line was inexperienced and not cohesive, which led to Yates receiving a lot of defensive pressure.

However, at least some responsibility has to be placed on Yates’ own human error. Thrown into the fire that was UNC’s offense last year, mistakes were expected. Two his most common mistakes were not throwing the ball away (which isn’t all that surprising) and, it would appear, not accounting for linebackers while reading coverage. At least seven of his 18 interceptions in 2007 were thrown into the arms of a player in the defensive front seven. One of them was a freak play on the part of Chris Long, but it still needs to be mentioned.

This year, it is not unreasonable to expect that most, if not all, of the major problems for Yates have been solved. He has a year of experience and an entire offseason of watching game film under his belt, his shoulder is fine and better than ever, and he should get significantly improve support from his running backs and offensive line.

The biggest advantage he has, however, is the targets he returns from last year. Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and Brooks Foster combine for perhaps the best wide receiving corps in the ACC. The big advantage that these players have is the ability to get yards after the catch. And T.J. Yates, unlike most other QBs, has an uncanny ability to get the ball to his receivers to get the most yards after receptions. This was the trait that most stood out dating back to 2007 Spring Practice, and it was likely one of the main factors that led to him receiving the starting job. As much has we may enjoy watching the deep ball, it’s the five yards throws that turn into 15 yard gains that will make this offense tick.

Outlook: Which T.J. Yates will we see this fall? The early September version, or the late October version? It’s difficult to be certain, but I’m willing to bet on the latter. Who knows, maybe he will exceed everyone’s expectations. Whatever the case may be, if UNC wants to live up to the preseason hype, the Heels will probably need a big year out of him.

Preseason Blogpoll Roundtable

As part of this season’s college football BlogPoll, Doug of Hey Jenny Slater will provide pollsters with a regular roundtable of questions throughout the season. this past week, he provided us with the preseason round of questions.

1. In his “visiting lecturers” series posted on Every Day Should Be Saturday over the past few months, Orson Swindle asked each participant to explain which country, during which historical period, their team most resembles. Let’s bring everything up to the present day and ponder: Which current sovereign nation is your team? Or to look at it another way, how does your team fit into the “world” of college football?

I can’t use the Russia example from my own visiting lecture, as 1996 Russia and 2008 Russia are two very different situations. In 2008, I would say that we most resemble India. We do have an old football culture (we were really, really good in the 40s and 70s-mid 80s), but we are relatively new in the modern college football scene (unless you were paying attention to the ACC in the mid 90s or earlier, you probably don’t remember UNC being any good; but trust me, they were). We have potential, and we are stockpiling talented youngsters for future success. We’ve yet to really make a mark on the world around us, but we have reason to believe our time will come soon enough.

More importantly, however, it gives me an excuse to play the greatest video in the history of the internet (beware of the subtitles):

I only lament that there is no one on my team named Oliver.

2. Every preseason roundup has to have some discussion of who’s overrated, but let’s go beyond that. Which team do you think is poised to crap the bed in the biggest way this season relative to high expectations, and which game do you think will begin their slide into ignominy?

Clemson is a tempting choice, but the law of average says they should live up to expectations eventually, and I just don’t see any ACC teams challenging them.

I say it’ll happen to Kansas. They were very impressive last year, but they lose their defensive coordinator and several key players. The Jayhawks were also lucky not to face Texas or Oklahoma in their conference schedule. No such luck this year.

South Florida aside, I don’t see them being challenged much in their early schedule. I think they’ll go 5-1 or 6-0 to start the season. Their rude awakening will be against the Sooners on October 18th. None of their remaining games are guaranteed wins, and we may see a collapse similar to the one Cal had in the second half of 2007.

3. On the flip side of that coin, which team do you think is going to burst out of nowhere to become 2008’s biggest overachiever — this year’s version of Kansas ’07, as it were — and what’s going to be the big upset that makes us all finally sit up and take notice of them?

I cannot pick North Carolina team for this, tempting as it may be, since that is the team I root for. I’m going to take Doug’s route a step further and delve deep into the Mountain West. I put TCU at #25 in my Blogpoll ballot. The Horned Frogs are perhaps the most consistently good mid-majors in the nation, and they’re expected to bounce back from an 8 win season in 2007, which is actually mediocre by Gary Patterson’s standards (56-18 since 2002). If they catch Oklahoma by surprise like they did in 2005, everyone will be on TCU’s spike-laden bandwagon.

4. Here’s an “I’ll hang up and listen” question. I put Ohio State and Oklahoma #1 and #2, respectively, despite their recent high-profile BCS face-plants. Where did you rank those two teams, and did those BCS issues have anything to do with it?

I have Ohio State at #2 and Oklahoma at #4. The Buckeyes bring back much of their 2007 squad. If that was a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes, I shudder to think what they will do in the weak Big Ten this year. Their game against USC is a bit of a play-in game; I don’t see anyone challenging OSU on their schedule except for the Trojans, and vice versa. I think Oklahoma is a top 5 team, and they certainly have the talent to be in the title game. I put them behind USC at #4 because 1) I don’t know enough about this year’s Sooners to place them at the top and 2) I don’t see anyone coming out of the Big 12 unscathed.

5. Last season was a statistical outlier in countless ways, not the least of which was the fact that we ended up with a two-loss team as national champion. Do you think anyone plays a strong enough schedule to get MNC consideration as a two-loss team this year? Conversely, do you see anybody managing to sail into the national-championship game undefeated?

I think there will be madness at the top, but not at the Vietnamese boathouse levels we had in 2007. The OSU-USC winner has the best chance of going undefeated. As I said before, I don’t see a conference opponent giving either team enough of a challenge for me so say “I think the Trojans are going to lay an egg in Corvallis” or anything of that nature.

As for a two loss team…well, there will come a day when a 9-4 team will leapfrog a 10-2 team to make it into the national championship game. And that team will be from the SEC.

WHY WEST VIRGINIA! WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST BEATEN PITT! WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST SHAVED OFF THE WANNSTACHE AT HALFTIME! WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST KEPT CONTROL OF THE BALL! WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST GIVEN YOUR HEISMAN CALIBER RUNNING BACK MORE THAN NINE CARRIES IN THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME IN SCHOOL HISTORY! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS! HOW COULD YOU ALLOW TWO ESTABLISHED TEAMS TO PLAY FOR THE TITLE IN THE MOST ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT SEASON IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY!

In all seriousness, I doubt we will see a two-loss national champion again for a while. It’s just too much of a statistical anomaly, and it will be a while before we see the #2 team in the nation, having averaged nearly 40 points per game, be held to single digits in their home finale by a 4-7 rival.

6. OK, time for some Olympic fever. Which athlete from the Beijing Olympics — any sport, any country, with the exception of USA basketball since those guys are already pros — would you most want to add to your team’s roster this season? No worries about age, eligibility, or even gender; we’ll worry about that crap later.

Little known fact: Karl Dorrell was fired by Olympic firing squad.

Usain Bolt is wayyyyy too obvious a choice, as is Michael Phelps. I would pick someone from the modern pentathlon. What is the modern pentathlon? In essence, it’s the obstacle course for 19th century outlaws: fencing and shooting (self defense and general debauchery), swimming, horseback riding and running (for the getaway), all in one day. From this event, I’m picking two time gold medalist Andrey Moiseev of Russia. I don’t care what position he might play. The modern pentathlon is badass, and there is always room for a badass on a football team.

My second pick would be someone on the Argentinean soccer team. UNC really needs a kicker this year.

HeelTube: Now in PropagandaVision!

You have to love YouTube. It’s a device in which one can compress an entire season into a three minute highlight reel, add a catchy song, and turn a 4-8 team into world beaters. Having said that, it’s hard not to get pumped watching this video if you’re a UNC fan.

(HT: Tar Pit.)

HeelTube: Wide Receiver Bonanza

With only nine days left until the start of Carolina’s football season, I am officially pumped. To help you visualize 2008 Carolina football, let’s take a look at a few of T.J. Yates’ favorite targets.

First up, Hakeem Nicks.

Next, senior Brooks Foster.

The gamebreaker, Brandon Tate.

And for good measure, Dwight Jones in high school.

Needless to say, Yates has plenty of options this year.

2008 UNC Season Previews: Running Back

Probable Starter: Greg Little

Key Reserves: Ryan Houston, Devon Ramsay, Jamal Womble, Shaun Draughn, Anthony Elzy, Bobby Rome, Rameses the Ram, Ramses the Dude in the Costume, Usain Bolt, Anrdei Arshavin, Bear Grylls, Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chinese Badminton sensation Lin Dan, Lego Steve Nash, Ben Mauk (6th Year of Eligibility), Ronnie McGill (8th year of eligibility)

Overview: Up until the post-Mack era, the Tar Heels were synonymous with a powerful rushing offense. Carolina tailbacks rushed for 1,000 yards 24 times between 1969 and 1997, and UNC had at least one 1,000 yard rusher for 12 consecutive seasons (1973-84).

In the Torbush/Bunting era, however, the best rushing season came from Chad Scott in 2004: 796 yards and 8 TDs. 2007 was near rock bottom: 107th in the nation at 99.5 pards per game, no one broke the 400 yard plateau, and no player established himself as the feature back. If Carolina has any hope of living up to the preseason hype, they’ll need far more support from the backfield.

Fortunately, Greg Little may change that. Little moved from wide receiver to tailback well into the season, and he was placed into the starting lineup against Georgia Tech and Duke. In those two games he rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, including 154 against the Blue Devils. With his performance at the end of 2007 and in camp, Little is going to start at tailback for the beginning of 2008. He has even said that his goal is to rush for 1,000 yards this season. While he does necessarily need to move mountains, he should certainly help make the offense more balanced.

Little’s place is fairly secure, but every other carry is up for grabs. Anthony Elzy, who rushed for 351 yards, is being moved to a fullback/H-back role. Both Johnny White and Richie Rich are switching to defensive backs. That leaves Ryan Houston as the incumbent, having rushed for 152 yards on 44 carries in his freshman year. He is much more fit this season than he was in 2007, which almost certainly means better production in 2008.

Then we reach into the unknown, the freshmen. Devon Ramsay is a 6-2, 240 pound redshirt freshman from Lawrenceville, NJ, who ran track in high school. So we can surmise that the guy has both size and speed, but that’s about all we know. Jamal Womble is a highly touted true freshman from Arizona who stands at 5-11 and 215 pounds, runs a 4.5 40, and rushed for 1,787 yards, 20 TDs, and over 10 yards per carry in his senior year, all school records in Sierra Vista. Again, we know his amazing potential, but not much else.

The most interesting story in this RB battle has been the emergence of Shaun Druaghn, whom I already like if only for the fact that his name rhymes. He was recruited as a safety, but also played QB and tailback at Tarboro High. After spring practice he asked coach Davis for the opportunity to play at running back in fall camp. He was given a significant share of practice carries while Houston has been banged up and Womble has learned the offense, and he has done nothing but impress. By August 30th, Draughn could be the 2nd tailback on the UNC depth chart.

Outlook: Little will definitely be a stable influence at the running back position, but depth is still an issue. Up to five tailback could have an impact this season, and we still have little idea who emerge as the #2 option. The running back position is Carolina’s biggest question mark heading into the season, and the answer will in all likelihood determine for far the Tar Heels can go in 2008.

(Draughn Photo: Tar Heel Blue.)

Carolina Football FACT of the Day: 8/18

The weird and useless facts about Carolina Football.

FACT: kick returners aside, special teams is a somewhat lonely existence. This fact is magnified on “Meet the Team” day, when everyone wants the autograph of the quarterbacks, the running backs, and the defensive ends. Meanwhile the punters and deep snappers are pretty much left alone. On the day scheduled solely for the adoring public, no less. For the sake of their own sanity, would someone please, please ask Terrence Brown and Mark House for an autograph?

Fans are excited about the coming season. UNC’s deep snappers…not so much.

(Photo: IC.)

2008 UNC Season Previews: Wide Receivers

Probable Starters: Hakeem Nicks (#88), Brandon Tate (#87)

Key Reserves: Brooks Foster (#1), Kenton Thornton (#3), Rashad Mason (#85), Dwight Jones (#83), and apparently 20% of the state of North Carolina.

Overview: Wide receiver is the deepest and most talented part of UNC’s offense. At the very least, Carolina has three fantastic, experienced receivers and three talented, if unproven, players behind them in the depth chart.

We start with junior Hakeem Nicks. In the entire, 115+ year history of UNC football, no one has amassed 1,000 yards receiving in one season. Hakeem Nicks has come closest, setting a school record with 74 receptions and 958 yards to go with five touchdowns. This year he’s a preseason first team All-ACC selection and is expected to break the 1,000 yard barrier with relative ease.

Brandon Tate is right behind him in the depth chart. While he might leave Chapel Hill as the greatest return man in ACC history, he hasn’t been renowned for his receiving. Last year Tate made a solid impression as the #3 receiver, scoring as many touchdowns as Nicks with only one-third of the receptions (25). A touchdown for every 5 catches is a pretty amazing number, and it’s enough for coach Davis to put him alongside Nicks in the starting lineup.

Brooks Foster may be listed third on the depth chart, but the senior has had 67 receptions for 903 yards in the last two seasons. Expect him to get a lot of touches while defenses worry about Nicks and Tate.

The greatest attribute that UNC’s top three receivers have is the ability to get yards after the catch. In 2007 the majority of the their catches would comes from quick throws form T.J. Yates within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. With Nicks in particular, Yates delivered a bullet from a one step drop against a corner who gave just a little too much space, and Nicks would fight for 8-12 yards and a first down.

Among the three receivers behind Nicks, Tate and Foster in the depth chart, only Kenton Thornton has any experience (three receptions in nine games played). One distinct advantage that Thornton, Rashad Mason and Dwight Jones have over the starting lineup is height; all three are at least 6’4″ while Nicks and Tate are both 6’1″. They may be unproven talents, but they should be in a few extra plays this season; if Nicks declares for the draft after this season, these three receivers are the probable starting lineup of 2009. Expect them to enter the fold for jump balls, passes up the middle, and the red zone.

Outlook: T.J. Yates should be counting his lucky stars right now. With the combination of talent, experience, and depth, he might be throwing to the best receiving corps in the ACC this season.

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