It feels like a lot longer than 2015 since North Carolina competed for an ACC Championship in football and further since 2013 when the Tar Heels last won a bowl game. But, Mack Brown is back, out of retirement, and eager to restore his former and current program to the glory of his last stint from 1988-1997.
The legendary coach is bringing excitement around football back to Chapel Hill, something that Larry Fedora struggled to maintain the last seven seasons including a 2-9 season in 2018 that sent Fedora packing with a last place finish in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
In his final two seasons in baby blue, Brown took the Tar Heels to marks of 10-2 and 11-1 in 1996-97 before heading to Texas where he won a national championship in 2005 and coached the Longhorns for 15 years before spending a few years in the broadcasting booth.
Offensively Brown wants to be dynamic with an air attack led by offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Expect the Tar Heels to run a lot of plays and move quickly on the offensive side of the ball. However, there is a lot of uncertainty on who will be running that attack.
There is a three-horse race at quarterback between incomer Sam Howell and redshirt freshmen Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder. The latter two like to use their legs to extend plays but suffered injuries ending their seasons in 2018, so it will be interesting to see how the battle plays out in the fall.
In the backfield, the Tar Heels are led by Michael Carter and Antonio Williams who are a speed-and-power combo. While North Carolina wants to air it out they will need solid contributions at running back, but improvement in the offensive line is essential for success on the ground. There will be some movement on the line but they will be depending on newcomers to anchor the offensive front.
Dazz Newsome, who caught 44 passes a year ago, is the leading receiver entering the year along with Dyami Brown. Those two will be pivotal to the air raid’s success.
On defense the team will show a variety of fronts under leadership from defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. Leading the pass rush will be defensive end Tomon Fox and linebacker Dominique Ross. Veterans Aaron Crawford, Jason Strowbridge and freshman Brant Lawless will hold down the rest of the defensive line. At linebacker they have to replace senior Cole Holcomb, who led the Heels in tackles for three seasons and will need help from younger players.
Their depth at corner will be tested with three injuries in the spring, but safety Myles Dorn and cornerback Patrice Rene will be the leaders of the secondary unit.
North Carolina has an opportunity to shake up the Coastal Division in Brown’s first season. The division is wide open, and as we see every year, anything is possible on the other side of the conference. No doubt Brown will have his team fired up when Clemson comes to town on Sept. 28th, and the game is certainly circled on the legendary coach’s calendar.