With the loss of star QB Marquis Williams, North Carolina will need to find a new leader on offense. Where do we see the Tar Heels going in 2016 with our free NCAA football pick?
Forgive me if I wax a bit nostalgic, but in the good ol' days when a school was projected to make it to a bowl game, as the North Carolina Tar Heels are this season, it meant that team and its fans were in for a solid campaign.
That is really no longer the case thanks to a saturation of the bowl schedule that can send teams which do not even finish with a .500 record to the postseason, as we saw in 2015 when three teams with 5-7 marks received invites. Granted, all three of those schools -- Minnesota, Nebraska, and San Jose State -- won their postseason matchups, but that's not my point.
North Carolina is expected to finish better than .500 this year, the NCAA football odds currently listing Larry Fedora's gang with a win total of 8½ with the 'over' even favored with a -125 price. But the Heels are lumped in the middle of the pack as far as the Atlantic Coast Conference odds go, an 8/1 choice to win the league crown which puts them in the same company as Louisville and Virginia Tech.
Experienced D-Line & D-Backs Return For UNC
Let's remember that those ACC odds are for a North Carolina team playing in the Coastal Division, not the tougher Atlantic group where both Clemson and Florida State reside. Being in the Coastal Division of the ACC is a little like the SEC East; neither is chockful of patsies, but still much easier than the Atlantic or SEC West divisions.
Let us also remember that Fedora and the Tar Heels will be breaking in a new starting quarterback after Marquise Williams departed Chapel Hill. Not only did Williams pass for more than 3,000 yards each of his last two seasons, he also led UNC in rushing in 2014 and finished just short of 1,000 yards on the ground a year ago.
Enter Mitch Trubisky, a redshirt junior out of Ohio. Trubisky did put up some decent stats when given the chance to play in 2015, completing more than 85% of his 47 attempts and throwing for six touchdowns without a pick. Caleb Henderson is officially the backup entering summer camp, but keep an eye on true freshman Chazz Surratt, the only 4-star recruit Fedora brought in this past signing day.
The Tar Heels don't need Surratt or anyone from the Class of '16 to step in immediately since 14 starters are returning from last year's 11-3 team. Elijah Hood, who ran for 1,463 yards and 17 scores is back, as are the top two receivers, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer. Four of the big uglies up front are also back in Chapel Hill to continue to help a UNC ground game that ranked 18th nationally (224 ypg) and surrendered just 16 sacks.
The defensive front also returns three of four starters from last year, plus all four pass defenders. The unit was a bit porous, especially as the 2015 schedule progressed, allowing over 430 yards per game.
Heels Draw Road Dates Vs. 'Canes & 'Noles
For the second consecutive regular season, the Tar Heels don't have the Clemson Tigers on their schedule. They did an admirable job in the ACC Championship vs. the Tigers, holding a slight lead late into the second quarter, but fell 45-37 and allowed over 600 yards.
Not having Clemson on the slate might be the only good news. North Carolina opens against Georgia, technically a neutral-site game though that site is in Atlanta meaning a predominance of Bulldogs fans. October begins with a very tough stretch on the slate, road games at Florida State and Miami sandwiched around a home date with Virginia Tech. November begins with Georgia Tech in Chapel Hill and a Thursday evening date five days later down the road in Durham vs. Duke.
North Carolina was a bit of a surprise in the ACC Championship last year, but will not return again this time. My college football pick is on the 'under' 8½ wins.
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