World, Hakeem Nicks. Hakeem Nicks, World.

Yes, the loss hurts in many ways that UNC’s other close losses have hurt this season, but this one was probably the least painful. It was as exciting game as one could ask for. Both teams played their hearts out and played (mostly) high quality football for most of the game. While making some mistakes, the Heels were excellent for much of the game and were as impressive in defeat as one can reasonably expect. Pat White, perhaps the greatest player in Mountaineer football history, had a outstanding day and win to cap off his illustrious college career. It was the best game of the pre-BCS slate, and the best case scenario for the Car Care Bowl organizers.

And Hakeem Nicks…oh, Hakeem Nicks:

The vidoes and statistics speak for themselves: 8 catches, 217 yards, 3 touchdowns. Nicks now holds every major school receiving record. It’s probable that this is the last we’ve seen of the greatest wide receiver in school history, as Nicks is an NFL talent right now and has nothing left to prove in college. UNC should be fine with a talented, if inexperienced, wide receiver trio of Greg Little, Kenton Thornton and Dwight Jones in 2009. If Hakeem comes back for his senior year, however, I may end up knocking myself out from the excitement.

Anyway, this post is a big Thank You and Congratulations for Hakeem Nicks and all the joy he has brought me and Tar Heel fans everywhere, from the Rutgers game on Saturday all the way up to Saturday’s remarkable performance.

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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: 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.