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A lot was expected from the North Carolina Tar Heels last year. They were entering Year 3 under Larry Fedora and had 15 starters back. But after a 2-0 start, the Tar Heels would lose each of their next four games while allowing an average of 51.0 points per game in the process. That was a sign of things to come for the defense, which was one of the worst in the country.

But North Carolina managed to finish strong by winning four of its final six games, including upset victories over Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke. Once it became bowl eligible with its sixth win, it appeared to pack it in. The Tar Heels lost their final two games to NC State (7-35) and Rutgers (21-40) in the Quick Lane Bowl in blowout fashion.

Fedora needs to find more consistency from his team this season. He should have his best team yet with 17 returning starters and only 18 lettermen lost. He has also done a tremendous job in recruiting, but hasn’t been able to get the most out of the talent on hand. Will 2015 be the year that it all finally comes together for Fedora and the Tar Heels?

Last Season
ACC Coastal
Record
ATS Record
Over/Under
Points For
Points Against
5th
6-7
5-8
5-7
33.2
39.0
2015 North Carolina Tar Heels Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/3 South Carolina (Charlotte)
+4
0.38
9/12 North Carolina A&T
-38
1
9/19 Illinois
-10
0.77
9/26 Delaware
-30
1
10/3 @ Georgia Tech
+12
0.18
10/17 Wake Forest
-13
0.83
10/24 Virginia
-6
0.66
10/29 @ Pittsburgh
+4
0.38
11/7 Duke
-4
0.62
11/14 Miami
-1.5
0.52
11/21 @ Virginia Tech
+9.5
0.25
11/28 @ NC State
+1
0.49
Estimated Wins: 7.08
Offense

North Carolina has put up some big numbers in Fedora’s three seasons. It averaged 33.2 points and 430 yards per game last year. It held its own on this side of the ball, and this should be Fedora’s best offense yet in 2015 with a whopping 10 starters returning. Expect plenty of shootouts for the Tar Heels once again this season.

Leading the way is quarterback Marquise Williams, who earned second-team All-ACC honors last year. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,068 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But it was the damage he did with his legs that made this offense tick. Williams led the team in rushing with 788 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Each of the top four receivers from last year return, led by third-team All-ACC Ryan Switzer (61 receptions, 757 yards, 4 TD). But another trio in Mack Hollins (35, 613, 8 TD), Quinshad Davis (41, 470, 6 TD) and Bug Howard (42, 455, 2 TD) were also very productive. The Tar Heels add in talented redshirt freshman Brandon Fritts at tight end. This should be Fedora’s best receiving corps as well.

For UNC to operate at optimum speed offensively, it must need to find a rushing attack outside of Williams. All of the top rushers from last year return in TJ Logan (582 yards, 4.9/carry, 3 TD), Romar Morris (278, 4.3, 4 TD) and Elijah Hood (259, 3.9, 4 TD). Look for Fedora to go with a running back by committee with these three again. They’ll be running behind a veteran offensive line that returns all five starters and 105 career starts. They did not have a senior in the entire 2-deep last year, so this should be one of the best offensive lines in the ACC.

Defense

The Tar Heels were simply laughable defensively last year. They allowed 39.0 points and 498 yards per game despite having seven returning starters from a unit that only gave up 24.5 points and 403 yards the year before. Fedora took all he could handle, so he somehow managed to convince Gene Chizik to abandon the broadcast booth and return to coaching. Chizik won a National Championship as the head coach at Auburn in 2011, and he earned his keep as a defensive coordinator at Texas (’05-’06), Auburn (’02-’04) and UCF (’98-’01) before that. This was an excellent hire and should make a huge difference for the D, which returns seven starters.

The defensive line parts ways with a pair of starters in DT Ethan Farmer (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and DE Norkeithus Otis (39 tackles, 4 sacks). They have two starters back up front in DE Dajuan Drennon (36 tackles, 2 sacks) and DT Justin Thomason (31 tackles, 5 for loss). Also back is DT Nazair Jones (35 tackles, 7.5 for loss), who was an excellent contributor off the bench. They add in talented freshman Jalen Dalton, who was one of the top DE recruits in the country coming out of high school. He should start right away and make a difference for this defensive line.

North Carolina is switching from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 this year under Chizik. It will be returning just one starter at linebacker in MLB Jeff Schoettmer (74 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 INT). Flanking him on the outside will likely be junior WLB Joe Jackson and senior SLB Shakeel Rashad (18 tackles, 2.5 for loss). But Cayson Collins (36 tackles) also has some experience. This unit can only be better with six very highly touted players among the linebacking corps.

The secondary parts ways with leading tackler Tim Scott (78 tackles, 8 passes defensed), but welcomes back seven of the top eight defensive backs from last year. Leading the way will be junior CB Brian Walker (38 tackles, 3 INT), junior CB Desmond Lawrence (71 tackles, 1 INT), senior SS Sam Smiley (52 tackles, 1 INT) and sophomore FS Donnie Miles (53 tackles, 4 for loss). After allowing 257 passing yards per game and a 31-to-12 TD/INT ratio to opposing quarterbacks last year, the secondary will be improved.

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Regular Season Win Total
ACC Coastal Odds
ACC Championship Odds
4-Team Playoff Odds
National Championship Odds
7.5
+1300
+2300
N/A
+70000
Season Predictions

I actually picked the Tar Heels to go 9-3 and finish second in the Coastal last year. They only managed six wins and a fifth-place finish in the Coastal, so I was wrong about them. I did not anticipate the defense being so atrocious, but for whatever reason, the Tar Heels could not stop anybody.

I love the addition of Chizik as the defensive coordinator. He’s going to get the most out of this defense that is a lot more talented than it showed last season. The offense will be even better than it was last year with 10 starters returning. Look for QB Williams to have a Heisman Trophy-caliber season with what he’s able to do both on the ground and through the air.

North Carolina is a legitimate contender in the Coastal this season. It draws two of the worst teams from the Atlantic in Wake Forest and NC State. It should be a favorite in all four of its ACC home games against WF, Virginia, Duke and Miami. But because it plays three of the best teams in the Coastal in VA Tech, GA Tech and Pitt on the road, I’ll call for a 5-3 finish in the ACC and an 8-4 record overall for the Tar Heels in 2015.

2015 Projections
ACC Coastal
ACC Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
T-2nd
5-3
8-4
Over 7.5
More College Football Predictions
ACC
Atlantic Division
Coastal Division
North Carolina
Conferences