Rebuilding Tar Heels Kick Off Season

Sharon Thorsland
August 31, 2017 - 7:13 am

I can't believe it's already time for college football! Sure, there have already been a handful of games, but Saturday officially kicks off the season and there are some outstanding games, headlined by #1 Alabama taking on #3 Florida State in Atlanta. But before that marquee match-up, North Carolina opens its season against California in Chapel Hill. You can hear that game on WBT, kick-off is set for 12:20.

We'll get our first look at a revamped Tar Heel team, one that finished last season 8-5 overall and third in the ACC's Coastal Division. But UNC lost a ton of great players, mostly on offense. Five of their top six receivers are gone, including Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer, their top two running backs, and oh yeah, a quarterback who was the number two pick in the NFL draft in Mitch Trubisky. Duking it out for the starting job are LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt, the red shirt freshman from East Lincoln High School. Senior Austin Proehl is expected to be the go-to receiver, he had 579 yards last season.

The defense is experienced but lost coordinator Gene Chizik, who left to spend more time with his family. He leaves behind a solid front seven led by defensive end Malik Carney, who had 5.5 sacks last season. The secondary is young but has a lot of talent, led by safety Donnie Miles and cornerback M.J. Stewart, an All-American candidate.And surely they'll be able to top last season's one interception – yes, one! - that was dead last in the nation.

The Tar Heels take on a California team that is also in rebuilding mode. The Bears have a new coach after losing five of their last seven games last season and finishing 5-7. Justin Wilcox is making his head coaching debut Saturday, and he's only got 10 returning starters to work with. The Bears lost their starting QB to the NFL along with their top receiver and rusher. But Wilcox still plans to run a pass-first offense and they've got a standout receiver in sophomore Demetris Robertson. He's a big play threat who caught 50 passes last season, seven of them touchdowns. Melquis Stovall starts on the other side, with first year starter Russ Bowers at quarterback. The Bears do have an experienced tailback in Tre Watson, he picked up 709 yards last season.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears have nowhere to go but up. They were atrocious on defense last season, ranking 125th in the nation allowing 518 yards per game. And they gave up more than 42 points per game, good for second worst in the country! They do have eight starters back on defense, though, so at least they've got some experience. The new coaching staff has brought in a 3-4 scheme, something the Tar Heels don't see very often. The linebacking unit is strong, with 2016 leading tacklers Devante Downs and Raymond Davison both back inside. Cal’s secondary is pretty darn good with lots of veteran players and a star in cornerback Darius Allensworth. They'll pose a challenge to UNC's inexperienced receiver group,

This should be a good season opener for a UNC squad that is looking to find its identity. While the Bears have some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, they've got more problems than the Heels do. I see UNC scoring a lot on the Bears' porous defense and kicking off the season with a win. Go Tar Heels!




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