Friday, May 12, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: NORTH CAROLINA
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
- - - - -
Not getting any worse - not that the loss column will necessarily get the message
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 24-36 (16-24 ACC) - 2005: 5-6 (4-4 ACC)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 10 (5 Offense, 5 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The quarterback - again - after graduated Matt Baker's one-and-done starting career. The Heels' most dangerous deep threat, Jarwarski Pollack, also took off, along with fellow long-time starters Kyle Ralph and Skip Seagraves on the offensive line and most of the starting defense.
WHAT'S THE SAME: John Bunting and his immortal mustache remain after five scattershot seasons filled with inexplicable losses inevitably followed by inexplicable defeats, usually evening out around .500 - just enough to save Bunting his job. It also remains true, though, that his team, regardless of its uncanny knack for the from-nowhere upset (FSU in 2001, Georgia Tech and Miami in 2004, Boston College last year), remains well below the rest of the league in terms of talent.
HE'S BA-ACK: Baker may have been the team's best option last year, but he wasn't good enough to overcome a dismal rushing game or lead the team to a winning record or postseason berth, so his one season in the starting role before graduation had a net gain for the program just above 'zero' - not that there was much of a choice, when his freshman backup was the kind of quarterbacking talent you move to fullback the following season, as the staff has done with Joey Bozich.
So in Baker's place...resurfacing...rising from the depths...if you thought he was dead...you thought wrong:
- - - - -
I know who's going to be your quarterback...
Tar Heel fans' only hope of defeating the monster - Nebraska's only losing quarterback maybe ever threw 19 interceptions, 19, while almost singlehandedly trashing the Huskers' offense in 2004 like it was downtown Tokyo under Godzilla - is the emergence of Cam Sexton, said to be in the race in the Spring but the likely underdog: he threw only three passes in the Spring game to Dailey's 15. And so the nightmare begins...
WE'RE FINE, JUST SO LONG AS THE QUARTERBACK DOESN'T HAVE TO THROW A PASS: One of Dailey's problems in Nebraska was that scheme's eventually predictable over-reliance on the pass at the expense of establishing the run, something Bunting certainly will vow to avoid. But unless Ronnie McGill establishes himself among a trio of underwhelming runners that collectively barely managed 100 yards a game last year, defenses will again be able to confuse an erratic and easily-flustered quarterbacl with the blitz and sit on the pass. The defense, which is half new on top of slipping a bit last year, can contribute to raising the offense into at least the top 100 by keeping things close enough that Dailey isn't forced to play desperate heave ho every fourth quarter (average pass attempts in UNC wins in '05: 28.8; in losses: 35).
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Defensive ends are barrelling down the field after popped reverses, linebackers are recovering after getting sucked in on play-action, offensive linemen are looking to "behead" teammates during scrimmages, and even the plastic hard hat has made its apperance - sounds like there's a sense of camaraderie and shared mission in the fourth-floor staff meeting room that's permeating the program:
As opposed to all those teams who report feeling down, out, pessimistic, moving in the wrong direction and permanently mired in a culture of losing after Spring practice. Put on a sunny face!
REASON FOR HOPE: Bunting's back is against the wall again, a place he's been frequently and always managed to fight his way out of before. A couple mild upsets and one big one - again, nothing new for this bunch - could put UNC back in a bowl game.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Dailey has submarined one offense already - why not another? The talent remains behind the increasingly sharp ACC curve.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... An overworked corporate sycophant, piled under a mountain of assignments and still accepting every new assignment the boss sends his way - with its schedule, even when UNC overachieves, it can never catch up in the end.
- - - - -
I don't know what they're doing to me here, man - I finally handle Virginia, and I'm thinking, 'Great, Wake Forest time,' or something, you know, but then there's freakin' Miami again! And I'm like, 'Didn't I take just care of you yesterday?'...
Not very teams could beat NC State, Utah, Virginia and Boston College in the same season and still find themselves on the wrong end of the .500 stick. As if the ACC schedule wasn't tough enough nowadays, the Heels have insisted on playing the likes of mid-major/minor headhunters Louisville and Utah as well as Wisconsin, with Notre Dame and Fresno State rotating onto the slate this year - under those circumstances, five wins, when the only team you're really favored to beat is Duke, is a hell of a season's work. Take a damn breath, guys, and maybe get an East Carolina or two back in the mix.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Five wins again, at least two of them eyebrow-raisers. Since Bunting's been on board, we shouldn't expect any less...nor should we expect any fewer than two eyebrow-raising losses, either.
- - - - -
Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron
- - - - -