On Preseason Expectations and…Such.

I’m an optimist. I believe that, no matter how much civilization will try to screw things up, it will always prevail. If a nuclear winter hits, my first thought will be “Is my family okay?” and my second will be “at least we’re rid of that damn kudzu infestation”. I find it a waste of time to dwell on glass-half-empty emotions.

And yet, even I wonder of the hyperbole surrounding the 2009 Heels football team may be a bit much.

UNC ranked #20 in the AP Poll: WHOOOOOOOO!!! I was wondering if we’d make the poll. 16-25 is where most of the “speculation” teams go, and I think we’re one of the better speculative teams out there. So yeah, fair enough.

UNC ranked #16 on the NBC Sports Poll: Okay, now we’re pushing it. If you’re basing your poll on on our schedule and what our record might look like in December, then okay. But if you think that the Heels are the 16th best team out there…I just don’t see it. There are too many questions, and we won;t have enough answers until at least September 26th when UNC visits Atlanta.

Shaun Draughn on the Doak Walker Award Watch List: WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTT

now, this isn’t to say that Shaun Draughn isn’t a good back: he is. Nor is it to say that the Doak Walker people shouldn’t cover as many bases as possible (although why do they need a list this early?). But this is a bit much. I only see three backs getting Award-type numbers: Jonathan Dwyer, C.J. Spiller, and Darren Evans. Those players have one benefit in common: the offense is geared specifically to them, or any player in the same position. UNC runs a pro-style offense, which places more emphasis on the pass that Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech will for an entire season. Also none of these players have competition at the position. Ryan Houston will take quite a few carries, including short yardage touchdowns. Adding Jamal Womble into the RB mix could shrink Draughn’s numbers even further. Even if Draughn plays exceptionally well under this system, the offense that Butch Davis and John Shoop want to run will prevent him from getting the gaudy numbers he needs to win the award.

To put it simply: it’s not gonna happen. (Of course, I’m not sure a Tar Heel wants to receive anything bearing Doak Walker’s name; CHOO CHOOWUZ ROBBED !!!)

I’m a huge fan of outlandish expectations; I dream of an 11-1 season in 2009, even though the back of my mind tells me that dream will be crushed by October 30th. It’s just that after 9 years under the Iron Mustache Curtain (dear leaders Torbush and Bunting), I don’t expect outsiders to be every bit as pie-in-the-sky about Carolina football as I am. In an Allegory of the Cave sort of way, it’s shocking. But hey, I’m out into the light and there’s a beautiful hillside waiting for me ahead.

Until the storms come in couple of months, of course.

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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.)