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2021 North Carolina Tar Heels: Are They as Good as Advertised?
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

2021 North Carolina Tar Heels: Are They as Good as Advertised?

There is a ton of hype surrounding Chapel Hill and it is NOT about BASKETBALL. Veteran Head Coach Mack Brown has restored the football program back to the place he left 2 decades ago in his first stint as coach. Recruiting has greatly improved and the Heels hauled in the No. 14 ranked class nationally last year. There is a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Sam Howell returning to an offense that has been very good in Brown’s 2 years back at North Carolina. The offensive line is solid and despite losing 2 NFL quality receivers there are returning players who are capable. The defense has got to make improvements and be able to get some stops and keep games from becoming shootouts as happened too many times last year.

Offense: It is always reassuring when starting a season with a proven, respected leader at QB. The Tar Heels have that in Sam Howell. And, oh yeah, he brings a big arm and a lot of talent to the table as well. He threw for 3,586 yards last year and 30 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions in 348 attempts. Those are big-time numbers. The offensive line remains intact from 2020 and they will be able to protect and open holes for the ground game. There is uncertainty at running back as All-ACC standouts Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are now in the NFL. There is help from Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler who has rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career. The receiving corps also lost 2 players to the NFL as well so replacements must be found there too. So, there are question marks on offense.

Defense: This side of the ball will be the key to North Carolina’s season. They gave over 31 points in six of the twelve games played last year and divisions aren’t won very often giving up that many points. There are proven players upfront led by brothers Tomon and Tomari Fox who combined for 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel returns in the middle and there are playmakers in the secondary. But, they have got to become more consistent as a unit and help out an offense that too often is burdened by having to score on every possession.

Non-Conference Schedule:

9/11 Georgia State

10/30 at Notre Dame

10/20 Wofford

North Carolina is another ACC team that only has three non-con opponents. Georgia State and Wofford are games that you should be able to pencil in as wins and they get a tough break by playing Notre Dame late in the season and the Irish should have their QB situation settled by then and be playing better than they will earlier in the season.

Conference Schedule:

9/2. at Virginia Tech

9/18 Virginia

9/25 at Georgia Tech

10/2. Duke

10/9 Florida State

10/16 Miami

11/6 Wake Forest

11/11 at Pittsburgh

11/26 at NC State

North Carolina plays 9 conference games and that is probably a plus in a conference that isn’t especially tough. Another bonus is there is no Clemson on the schedule so they dodge the best team in the league. The home games against Virginia, Duke, and Wake Forest are must wins and they really need to beat Florida State. The game against Miami might be for the Coastal Division championship. The road games at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh are winnable for sure and the toughies are at Virginia Tech to open the season and at in-state rival NC State to end the season.

Summary: There definitely is reason for optimism and all the hype surrounding the Tar Heels in 2021. The QB is solid, the offense can score, and the schedule is doable. But, are they overrated? They won 8 games last year but only three teams had winning records. They also had bad losses against Florida State and Virginia so I question them somewhat. I think Mack Brown has done a great job and I admire him greatly but I’m not sure this team is a Top-10 squad.

Predicted Finish: 2nd Place in the Coastal Division

Overall Record: 8-4

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