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North Carolina Tarheels
After a dominant, undefeated season of ACC play, North Carolina has a bull's-eye on its back. The Tar Heels were expected to be good last year, but not 11 wins good and now they are projected to win the Coastal division again and reach at least 10 wins. With a new quarterback, that will be tough, but with plenty of talent returning, it's possible.
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Mitch Trubisky steps in as the new quarterback and due to his success in limited time last year (40-of-47 for 6 TDs, 0 INTs), expectations are plenty high. Of course, most of those numbers were achieved in a blowout against Delaware and can't be given too much thought. At the least, Trubisky will have tools around him to make things easier.
Ryan Switzer (697 yards, 6 TDs) is the top returning receiver and there is still hope Bug Howard (488 yards, 4 TDs) can take the next step at being an elite target, but he only has one chance left. Speedster Mack Hollins (745 yards, 8 TDs) is in the mix as well, so Trubisky will have plenty to throw at. And the running game will be just fine led by Elijah Hood (1,463 yards, 17 TDs) behind a more-than-capable offensive line, which has two all-conference guys returning in guard Caleb Peterson and tackle Jon Heck.
But as was the case last year, UNC still needs to figure out its defense. The Heels could've been even better last year if their defense did a little more. That was the main reason they were gashed in the Athletic Bowl by Baylor for 600-plus rushing yards. It's year two for coordinator Gene Chizik and some kind of leap is expected from this side of the ball.
Defensive tackle Nazair Jones missed the bowl game, but he's at least a building block along the line. End Dejaun Drennon is in his junior year and this could be the year he finally lives up to potential, which would be huge for this defense. The biggest question is at linebacker where the Heels have three gaping holes to fill. The group was still a work in progress in the spring with freshman Jonathan Smith among the candidates vying for a spot. The secondary has a bit more experience returning with cornerback M.J. Stewart the leader of that unit.
The Tar Heels will get to test their run defense out of the gates with a game against Georgia, annually one of the best rushing teams in the nation. They'll face another run-heavy team in their first ACC game against Pittsburgh. And then UNC travels to Florida State, which will be their hardest game of the season. UNC's schedule is a bit tougher this year and that could lead to more losses, with Coastal road games at Miami and Duke standing out, two teams looking at revenge from last year's blowouts.
But if the Tar Heels offense can be just as good with Trubisky under center, revenge may not be possible for those teams. And if UNC's defense can improve, expect them to be at the top of the Coastal division again.
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2016 North Carolina Tar Heels Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Georgia (Georgia Dome)
Sept. 10 at Illinois
Sept. 17 vs. James Madison
Sept. 24 vs. Pittsburgh
Oct. 1 at Florida State
Oct. 8 vs. Virginia Tech
Oct. 15 at Miami (FL)
Oct. 22 at Virginia
Nov. 5 vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 at Duke
Nov. 19 vs. The Citadel
Nov. 25 vs. NC State
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