2016 SI college football preseason Top 25 team preview: No. 22 North Carolina
- Running back Elijah Hood will be the engine behind North Carolina's success if the Tar Heels wish to capitalize on their 2015 success.
Key returning starters: RB Elijah Hood, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard
Larry Fedora has high hopes for new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who knows the Heels’ offense inside and out. The replacement for the departed Marquise Williams joins returning playmakers like wideout Ryan Switzer, Hood and an experienced offensive line from the ACC’s top-scoring unit (40.7 points per game) in 2015.
Key returning starters: DT Nazair Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Des Lawrence, S Donnie Miles
The Tar Heels’ defense improved dramatically under first-year coordinator Gene Chizik, allowing 14.5 fewer points per game in 2015. But that group loses two of its top three tacklers in linebackers Shakeel Rashad (126 stops in ‘15) and Jeff Schoettmer (97). Look for safety Donnie Miles to headline an otherwise young group.
Leader in rushing: Hood. An unheralded rusher despite ringing up 1,463 yards on the ground—second-most in school history—in 2015.
Leader in receiving: Mack Hollins. The 6’ 4’’, 210-pound Hollins led the nation in yards-per-catch (24.8) last season.
Leader in tackles: Miles. The safety started all 14 games in 2015 and paced the Tar Heels with 128 total stops.
Leader in interceptions: Stewart. The junior has grabbed six interceptions in just two college seasons.
Opposing coach's take
“It’s no secret their advantage is having an offense that can score a lot of points. [Junior running back] Elijah Hood’s a big, physical type [6-foot, 220], plus their receiving corps is as talented as there is. It’s a tall, athletic group complemented nicely by dynamo [senior] Ryan Switzer in the slot.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky [a junior] has valuable experience, and many thought he was going to be the guy last season. Coach Larry Fedora is one of the best offensively, especially with tempo and running the ball. That’s a challenge, because they’re not just one of those pass-happy spreads.
Credit defensive coordinator Gene Chizik for simplifying what’s primarily a 4–3 scheme. The defense was a train wreck in 2014. They gave up tons of big plays and there was a lot of finger-pointing, but Chizik helped change that. There’s really nobody that scares you. Cornerbacks M.J. Stewart [a junior] and Des Lawrence [a senior] are pretty good, but their front seven is still developing. They have recruited well, however, so there’s definitely some talent. As bad as they were against the run a year ago, you have to think that’ll be an emphasis.
Look out on special teams; Switzer is a punt return nightmare.”
The bad news: The Tar Heels finished 10th or worse in the ACC in sacks, run defense and third- down D last fall. The good news: Four starters among their front seven are gone. Can the coaches coax improvement out of the three returning linemen? Can tackle Jalen Dalton, a top 100 recruit, mature quickly?
|Sept. 3||Georgia (in Atlanta)|
|Sept. 10||at Illinois|
|Sept. 17||James Madison|
|Oct. 1||at Florida State|
|Oct. 8||Virginia Tech|
|Oct. 15||at Miami|
|Oct. 22||at Virginia|
|Nov. 5||Georgia Tech|
|Nov. 10||at Duke|
|Nov. 19||The Citadel|
|Nov. 25||NC State|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|