Today at No. 44: North Carolina
Coach: Larry Fedora (40-25, entering fifth season; 74-44 overall)
2016 record: 8-5, 5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, tied for second Coastal Division
Look back: Led by QB Mitch Trubisky and WR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina posted an 8-5 record during the 2016 season and tied for second in the Coastal Division. UNC won seven of its first nine games before injuries slowed the team’s progress. Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora’s team lost three games by a total of 10 points, including a 25-23 loss to Stanford in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: QB Mitch Trubisky, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, OT Jon Heck, C Lucas Crowley, TB Elijah Hood, DE Mikey Bart, DT Nazair Jones, CB Des Lawrence, S Dominique Green
Top returnees: WR Austin Proehl, TE Carl Tucker, OT Bentley Spain, OG R.J. Prince, OG Tommy Hatton, DE Malik Carney, DT Aaron Crawford, LB Cole Holcomb, LB Andre Smith, LB Cayson Collins, CB M.J. Stewart, S Donnie Miles
Strengths: Sophomore Jordan Brown, early enrollee Michael Carter and junior Jacob Schmitt will compete for playing time at running back.
Senior WR Austin Proehl, the son of former Carolina Panthers and Wake Forest standout Ricky Proehl, leads a promising but relatively inexperienced receiver corps that includes seniors Thomas Jackson (17 catches) and Jordan Cunningham.
Up front, OT Bentley Spain, OG Hatton and OG R.J. Prince return with OT William Sweet and OT Charlie Heck and OG Nick Polino competing for playing time.
Gene Chizik upgraded the Tar Heels’ defense, aiding the team’s rise in the ACC. John Papuchis replaces Chizik, whom he considered a mentor.
As a result, the unit will have some continuity. The defense returns three at linebacker: Andre Smith (113 tackles), Cayson Collins (60 tackles) and Cole Holcomb (115 tackles). They will be aided by DE Malik Carney (5.5 sacks) and DT Aaron Crawford (42 tackles).
Weaknesses: Trubisky completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns with six interceptions during his sole season leading the UNC offense. He finished sixth nationally in pass completion percentage and 11th in pass efficiency.
It won’t be easy to offset his loss, but Fedora has demonstrated success running the offense.
Outlook: Fedora has consistently produced prolific offensive units. The transformation of the defense under Chizik’s watch was the key to UNC’s move up in the ACC. If the team can adapt to a new starting quarterback and a new defensive coordinator, the Tar Heels should once again be in contention for an ACC Coastal Division title.