LSU To Feast On Delicious Mutton in 2010

It’s pretty much official: UNC and LSU have agreed to meet at the Georgia Dome to open the 2010 season, the third year in a row the an ACC and SEC team will face off in Atlanta at the start of the year.

Advantages:

  • An instant national audience
  • It automatically boosts our schedule strength for 2010, making up for any FCS games
  • If UNC wins, it would be a marquee win for the season, the program, and the Butch Davis era at UNC
  • With 9 wins (bowl included) or more in ’09, the hype would be big enough to catapult Carolina onto the national stage with a win.
  • This space left blank to make way for awesome:

Disadvantages:

  • There is a substantial chance that, in spite of the strides that Carolina football have made, LSU could wipe the field with Carolina like Alabama did with Clemson last season;
  • if the ACC doesn’t have a national contender in 2009, the pressure could be stratospheric for UNC to win this game and represent the conference well.
  • Four of UNC’s most important defensive players may or may not be on our roster in 2010: Sturdivant, Carter, Austin, and Deunta Williams. (I don;t believe that Anyone on offense is going to leave early in 2009, and I think )

So, as with most things in life, this is either going to end very well or very badly. The positives for the Heels outweigh the negatives. With a win the Heels could be instant title contenders. And if they lose, hey, it’s against L-S-freaking-U.

I can’t wait for this game to come.  I can smell the deep fryers already.

(via EDSBS)

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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.

Previewing UNC vs. South Carolina

Five ways for UNC to pull off the upset:

  • If Anthony Elzy has a big day. Carolina now finally has an established running back in Elzy, who has 169 rushing yards, over 200 total yards, and 2 touchdowns in his last two games. Keep in mind that these stats were against two tough defenses in Virginia Tech and Miami. The Heels will need him to have a big day against the Gamecocks; while they’re #1 in the nation in pass defense, they’re also 99th in run defense.
  • If T.J. Yates doesn’t spend most of the game on his back. T.J. Yates first three games at QB: 58 for 88, 902 yards, 9 TDs, 3 interceptions, 5 sacks. His next three games: 42 for 75, 485 yards, no TDs, 5 interceptions, 12 sacks. Yates has steadily improved over the time frame of three games, and he didn’t turn the ball over against Miami. However, he can’t be very effective as a quarterback when he’s constantly under. If he gets time to throw from his young offensive line, he’ll be able to do what he did best early in the season: throw to his three main receivers (Tate, Nicks, and Foster) in position to get yards after the catch.
  • If the defense can stop South Carolina’s offense from getting momentum. In each of UNC’s last three losses, the Tar Heels were forced to play from behind the entire game because their defense let the opposing offense score a touchdown on their first drive. In two of those games, they were in essence the only offense touchdown the team would score and thus the difference in the game. (I’m counting VT’s second half touchdown as a defensive touchdown, since Xavier Adibi returned a Yates interception to the 4 yard line before Brandon Ore punched it in.)

And that starts on the defensive line. Hilee Taylor, E.J. Wilson, Kentwan Balmer, and Marvin Austin are capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. If they’re effective in stopping the run and pressuring Chris Smelley, the entire defense can be effective.

  • If UNC can win the turnover battle. In UNC’s two wins, their turnover margin is +4, including forcing 4 turnovers against Miami (5 if you include “Quantavius Sturdivant”‘s punt block). In their 4 losses, the TO margin is -7. UNC’s offense will need to take care of the ball, while players in the secondary such Deunta Williams will need to take advantage of any mistakes that Smelley makes in the game.
  • If UNC can perform well on special teams. Connor Barth has yet to miss a field goal this season. Brandon Tate is one of the best kick and punt returners in the nation; he’ll need to have a good game, if not for scoring then for field position. As stated before, the blocked punt by Sturdivant became the difference in last week’s game against the Hurricanes.

Five ways that the Tar Heels can lose this game:

The exact opposite of the preceding five points.

Five players who must come up big for the Heels today:

  • Elzy. See above.
  • Sturdivant. Not only has he been an essential special teams player, he’s established himself as UNC’s linebacker of the future, playing well in his last few games alongside Durell Mapp.
  • Jermaine Strong/Tavores Jolly. Kendric Burney has solidified himself at one side of the defensive secondary, but the other side was left open after Kendric Willams tore his ACL against Virginia Tech. Strong played well against Miami before shoulder issues set in. Jolly stepped in for the second half and got absolutely burned in the third quarter, responsible for at least two of Miami’s four touchdowns. The first touchdown was the result of a Jolly holding penalty in the endzone, and it was Jolly who got burned on Darnell Jenkins’ 97 yard touchdown. Talk about a baptism by fire. If neither of them can come through, we may see a lot of nickelback Charles Brown in this game.
  • The guys at the line of scrimmage. If our offensive and defensive lines lose the battle in the trenches, we’ll lose. It’s simple.
  • Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster: They have a responsibility to keep Yates off the turf as well. If they can’t get open, the result will be a lot of coverage sacks for the Gamecocks. UNC’s passing offense also depends on the receiver’s ability to get yards after the catch.

Five players to watch for South Carolina:

  • Chris Smelley. He’s SC’s quarterback because he’s able to manage a game and, unlike Blake Mitchell not make big mistakes. If he has time, he’ll have a good day throwing the ball against a non-SEC defense.
  • Cory Boyd. UNC’s defense has struggled against the run in earlier games. Boyd is the best running back they’ve seen yet. If the front seven can’t keep him in check, the Tar Heels are in for a long game.
  • Eric Norwood. He’s the centerpiece of the Gamecocks’ top defense, an excellent defender against the run and the pass. He was responsible for two key touchdowns on fumble returns against Kentucky last week.
  • Ryan Succop. He’ll be doing double-duty today as kicker and punter, and he’s among the best in the SEC at both.
  • Captain Munnerlyn. His name alone is enough, but he’s also the anchor of South Carolina’s secondary and kick return units.

People are trying to make a big deal out of Spurrier returning to Kenan Stadium for the first time since his Duke team crushed UNC 41-0 in 1989. I actually don’t care much about it, as it was before my time; Florida State is far more likely to draw my eternal football ire*. This is more about pulling off the big upset as establishing the Tar Heels as a team on the rise.

As always, stay tuned for the live blog at 3:30 pm.

*No, I still haven’t forgiven the Seminoles for that cold November might 10 years ago.

Men, In This Can Lies The Solution To All Of Our Problems!

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Our record says 2-4, and our statistics are roughly at where a 2-4 team should be (50th nationally on defense, 84th on offense). However, I can point to three plays this season–one in each game–that could have made us 5-1 if they played out differently.

All we had to do was not fumble.

  1. Fourth Quarter, about 10 minutes left. UNC is driving to score against the Pirates, game tied at 31. Hakeem Nicks catches a pass and runs to a first down at the 34. but he fumbles the ball, and ECU recovers. If he holds on to that ball, the continuing drive would have almost certainly led to a score. if UNC scores a touchdown or a field goal, ECU’s final drive is to go for the tie. UNC’s defense holds its own in the red zone, as they have the entire second half, and hold on to win. TheTar Heels are now 2-0.
  2. Fourth Quarter, eight minutes left. UNC is driving, down 22-14 to UVa. Yates completes a pass on 2nd and 4 to Zack Pianalto who gets a first down inside the 35. But the ball comes clean out on a fumble, and UVa. recovers. If he holds onto that ball, UNC would have gotten themselves at least in field goal range. Yate’s touchdown pass to Quinn with less than two minutes left gives UNC a 23-22 win. The Tar Heels are now 3-0, 1-0 in the ACC.
  3. Third Quarter, three minutes left. UNC is at the 5 yard line. It’s second and goal, the Heels are down 10-3, and they looked poised to tie the game. They hand the ball off to Ryan Houston, who is stopped at the 5 yard line comes flying out of his arms into the endzone. If he does nothing else but hold on to the ball, or even the Heels outhustle the Tech defense to the loose ball, UNC is almost assured of points in that drive. With a score, Yates doesn’t throw that interception to Xavier Adibi, and Carolina hangs on for a close victory on the heels of a great defensive performance. The Tar Heels are now 4-1, 2-0 in the ACC.

Other plays which could have turned the tide:

T.J. Yates’ botched snap: If he finishes the 2nd down play on the final drive, UNC gets a first down and continues running down the clock; UNC, not ECU, gets the game-winning FG as time expires.

Chris Long’s interception: That was a freak play, that required unbelievable athleticism on the part of long. Without the INT, the score remains 19-14, and UNC’s last-minute TD wins the game.

Eddie Royal’s reverse: on Virginia Tech’s very first play from scrimmage, their offense caught the Heels defense red-handed in overpursuit, running the reverse for 50-plus yards down the right sidelines to set up their only offensive touchdown of the day. Without that play, it’s the Hokies coming from behind the entire game.

One final statistic: in these games, UNC’s turnover margin was -5 (7 giveaways, 2 takeaways).

In each of these games we were one, or at the most two, plays away from victory. With those victories, UNC would be 5-1, 3-0 in the ACC, and 1st place in the Coastal division.

Now, the vast majority of these players have less than 300 collegiate plays from scrimmage under their belts, so they have a lot to learn. The Tar Heels have played their hearts out all season, and have improved some facet of their play in every game. The mere fact they were competing in all of these games shows that strides that Carolina has made in 2007. Also there are many, many other areas in which the Tar Heels need to improve. However, this exercise shows how much the outcome of a game, or even a season, can change with one play, especially turnovers. At some point in the next few years (or even this year), The Heels will be making those kinds of plays instead of giving them to opponents.

We’ll need a lot of stickum for when Spurrier and the #7th ranked Gamecocks come to Chapel Hill on Saturday.

UNC Spring Game Notes: Practice? You Talkin ‘Bout Practice?

I attended the Spring Game on April 14th, and I have to say it wasn’t as exciting an event as I had hoped. Here are a few observations from the scrimmage/practice:

  • During the warmpus, I noticed that a few of the UNC players’ stretches were basic yoga poses (such as downward dog). What this means, I have no idea. Hopefully it means that our team will be less injury prone this season, but it could just as easily mean that they will play like girly-men. But hey, whatever gets wins.

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  • It looks like the battle for starting quarterback is down to incumbent Cam Sexton (#11) and redshirt freshman T.J. Yates (#13). Mike Paulus did not play, so where he stands in the race remains unseen. I will say that Yates has the stronger arm, and is able to quickly deliver the ball on passes that lead to good runs after the catch. For a conservative offense or an inexperienced quarterback, delivering the ball for yards after the catch is very important. The best example of this was a WR screen pass he fired to Hakeem Nicks on the right side; he was able to avoid tacklers and take the ball for a 65 yard touchdown. Yates ended up completing 10 of 15 passes (although 2 passes were near interceptions) for 3 touchdowns.

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  • Even when Joe Dailey is a wide receiver, passes thrown to him get intercepted. I’m not kidding.

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  • UNC played four tailbacks during the scrimmage. Of the four, two played well: Anthony Elzy and Justin Warren. If the Heels play with two backs, Elzy would likely take runs to the inside, while Warren would be able to make inside and outside rushes. Richie Rich and Anthony Parker-Boyd did not accomplish much when in the game.
  • I’m anxious to see how our wide receivers will fare this season. Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster were rare bright spots from 2006, and the arrival of Greg Little, Rashad Mason, and Dwight Jones from this year’s recruiting class makes the position one of UNC’s biggest strengths. But the best athlete I saw at the Spring game was 6-4, 225 pound sophomore WR Kenton Thornton. His game is unrefined, but he definitely has the capacity to be a big contributor in the passing game.
  • Both in the warmups and in the scrimmage, UNC’s defensive line seemed to have a clear advantage over the offensive line. I like to think that means the D-line is a strength rather then to think the O-line is going to suck. It is likely a combination for the two, but we’ll see.
  • Secondary may also be a concern. Overall they played solid, knocking down intermediate passes and making good tackles. For the first time in a while, I saw a UNC player, Jermaine Strong (#38), deliver a decleater. Those are the kinds of plays that make me a football fan. Still, they allowed a few big plays, including that screen pass and a big run by Justin Warren. Brian Dixon (#30, Safety) had several chances to intercept passes, but he appears to have hands of stone.
  • I was concerned by special teams. Brandon Tate is an excellent returner, and we now have not one but two good placekickers (Connor Barth and Lane Clemmons). However, our punter can’t kick the ball 40 yards, and the long snapper botched several snaps both in kicks and punts. In the ACC, games can be lost with bad snaps in crucial situations, so this needs to be remedied before the season.

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  • Butch Davis is trying to steal Jim Tressel’s thunder (or maybe after coaching in Miami, Chapel Hill is cold for him). He sported a navy blue sweater vest on the sidelines, and he is wearing the vest on promotional items. Let’s just hope that after chemotherapy, he can grow his hair back in time for the season. Recent history tells us that you can’t win championships in college football without good hair.
  • In the middle of scrimmage, there were several people talking on their cell phones, especially to wave to their friends in other parts of the stadium. It absolutely killed the atmosphere, especially since everyone could hear them. Speaking of atmosphere…
  • Considering this was the dawn of the Butch Davis era, the atmosphere at Kenan Stadium was decidedly underwhelming. Tar Heel Blue says about 10,000 fans attended, and I would agree with that number. There was no band, concessions were limited, and the Alumni Lunch before the scrimmage made me sick for two days. There wasn’t even any scorekeeping for the game; how were we supposed to know who was playing well? By actually paying attention? Please. By comparison, look at these attendance numbers:

Spring Game at the University of Alabama: 92,138 (sellout)

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Spring Game at the University of Oklahoma: 40,000

Spring Game at the University of Florida: 70,000

Spring Game at Ohio State: 75,000

Late Night With Roy (UNC’s opening basketball practice): 21, 500 (sellout)

UNC Spring Game: 10,000

April 15 home opener for the New York Red Bulls, professional soccer team in the US’s most international city, coached by the U.S soccer coach who led America to their best World Cup finish in their modern history: 8,865

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It’s comforting to know that meaningless practices by bad college football teams are still better attended than meaningful top-level soccer games in America. Take that, terrorists!

The Spring Game was fun, but it left a lot to be desired. At some point in the next couple of weeks I’ll write an article on If I Ran… about the college football Spring Game.