It's very easy to forget that the North Carolina Tar Heels had a darned good year last year. They are a fairly anonymous team, yet after losing their opener to South Carolina last year they won their next 11 games - including all eight conference games. There is an asterisk the size of a small elephant beside that, of course - the ridiculously imbalanced ACC divisions meant that they managed not to play Clemson, Florida State or Louisville - quite possibly the three best teams in the conference this year. They also had a ridiculously soft nonconference schedule beyond South Carolina.
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Still, you don't win 11 in a row by accident. Another odd note about this team is that they managed to win 11 games, and they experienced a fair bit of roster turnover, yet they didn't have a single player drafted. Like I said, odd - though certainly not unprecedented as it is the second year in a row without a draft pick.
So, can the Tar Heels put together another big season? Or will they fade into obscurity - or, more correctly, further into it?
Key Additions and Departures
Marquise Williams was a solid quarterback. More than that, really - the offense was tops in the country in yards per play last year. He's gone, and taking his place is Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky is a redshirt junior who was a well-regarded recruit who was named Mr. Football in Ohio as a high school senior. He has played well in 18 regular-season appearances over the last two years, though he has not started yet. He's easy to trust - especially since he plays behind an offensive line that returns four starters and a backup who played heavy minutes as well as a receiving corps that is deep. He also gets to hand off to Elijah Hood, who is among the best running backs in the country right now. He will have to deal with a new offensive coordinator, because former coordinator Seth Littrell now coaches North Texas. The new guy is familiar - Chris Kapilovic coached the offensive line last year.
One thing I really hate, though - and too many teams make the same mistake - is that Kapilovic is still coaching the offensive line as well as coordinating. It's hard enough to be a good coordinator when it's your only job - especially for an offense as high-paced and aggressive as this one.
Gene Chizik enters his second season as defensive coordinator. I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing or not. He made big steps forward last year in his first season, but he'll have to overcome some challenges to make another advance. He is going to have a lot of youth in his offensive line rotation, and he lost two key seniors among his linebackers. He still has athleticism but not a lot of experience to work with. The secondary is more stable, though, and should be a strength.
North Carolina Tar Heels Schedule Analysis
Like last year, the Tar Heels open against a mid-range SEC team - the new-look Georgia Bulldogs under Kirby Smart in this case. Then they travel to play another high-profile new coach - Lovie Smith at Illinois. The other two nonconference games are laughable. By the second conference game of the year their dreams of a second straight conference season will almost certainly end as they have to travel to Tallahassee to play Florida State. Rough game. A trip to Miami could potentially be a challenge, too, with yet another first-year coach in charge - Mark Richt in this case. The other two road games are near certain wins, and the home schedule is straightforward - they again avoid both Clemson and Louisville. It's a schedule that is tougher than last year, but eight wins is a minimum it seems.
2016-17 North Carolina Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has North Carolina at +7500 to win the national title, which has them tied with four other teams as the 28th overall choice. That's not a particularly flattering price from oddsmakers, but then they do need to beat either Florida State or Clemson in the conference championship game to get that title shot. They are +1000 to win the ACC, which makes them the fifth choice. They are the fourth choice to win the ACC Coastal Division at +400 behind Miami, Pitt and Virginia Tech. That's odd because they have lower odds than both Virginia Tech and Pitt to win the ACC (they are both +1400). In relative terms, then, they are a bargain in the division.
North Carolina was a solidly profitable team to bet on - not spectacular, but profitable. They were 8-6 ATS, and went "over" the total in eight of 14 games.
2016-17 North Carolina Predictions and College Football Picks
I am more bullish on this team than the oddsmakers. The offense will be very good, and the defense should be adequate - even if Chizik inspires as much confidence as a bike with one wheel. The team will lose to Florida State, but I like them solidly in six of their seven remaining conference games and give them a solid chance at Miami. The division price offers some solid value.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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