FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 17 North Carolina
North Carolina has every reason to believe it is positioned perfectly to win its first ACC championship since 1980.
The Tar Heels boast a veteran defense stocked with NFL talent, their offense is expected to be much improved and their schedule gives them ample opportunities to climb the polls.
Yet, has that outlook dramatically changed since July 15 for head coach Butch Davis and Co.?
UNC assistant coach John Blake and senior players Marvin Austin and Greg Little are the focus of the NCAA investigation into the program which became public on July 15. The NCAA interviewed Austin and Little about potentially receiving improper benefits from an agent. It is also looking into Blake's relationship with sports agent Gary Wichard.
Defensive tackle Austin and receiver Little, two of the team's best players, have been practicing with the second team while their eligibility status is being evaluated by the NCAA. Davis said he hired Blake in Dec. 2006 because "he was a very good teacher, a good defensive line coach." Davis, in his fourth season at UNC, has also talked with players about the importance of ignoring distractions.
The NCAA probe aside, the Tar Heels still must prove they can be a contender, not pretender.
UNC may have a championship-caliber defense -- six players have been mentioned as potential first-round NFL selections -- but will the offense and senior quarterback T.J. Yates be good enough to get the Heels to the ACC title game? And it also doesn't help that UNC plays in the Coastal, clearly the stronger of the ACC's two divisions.
THE BASICS: UNC went 8-5 last year, 4-4 in the ACC, punctuated by a 19-17 defeat to Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. While the Tar Heels relied on a sturdy defense that ranked first in the ACC and sixth nationally in total offense allowed per game at 269 yards, their offense lacked consistency and firepower. UNC features a boatload of returning starters -- 21, including specialists -- but, of course, the Tar Heels have sprung a leak as an NCAA probe lingers over the program.
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Jonathan Cooper was an All-ACC freshman team selection last season after grading out at 73 percent with 40 knockdown blocks at guard. Blessed with size, smarts and extraordinary athletic ability, Cooper has been moved to center to help strengthen the offensive line.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: It's become obvious the Tar Heels are growing weary of talking about the NCAA investigation into the program. Davis is still waiting to find out whether two key players will be eligible for the opener against LSU and beyond. While players have admitted publicly the probe has been annoying, they also have stressed they can only worry about what's happening in practice.
DON'T MISS: The gauntlet that is September. The Tar Heels' open the season against LSU at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Following an off week, they open league play at home against defending ACC champion Georgia Tech. UNC caps its opening month with trip to Rutgers.
PREDICTED RECORD: 8-4
FanHouse's North Carolina team page with schedule
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