By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Butch Davis continues to move the North Carolina program back to relevance in the FBS and last year was another step in the right direction.
Fueled by a punishing defense, the Tar Heels posted their second straight
eight-win season, although UNC finished just fourth in the tough Coastal
Division with a 4-4 conference mark.
The season began strong with three straight wins, but back-to-back losses to
Georgia Tech (24-7) and Virginia (16-3) left the team in an early ACC hole.
Davis and company were able to turn things around after that with five wins in
the next six games, including a terrific 20-17 victory at Virginia Tech in
late October. The Tar Heels were unable to finish strong however, with a
heart-breaking loss at rival NC State (28-27) to close out the regular season.
Still, the team did enough to earn a spot in the Meineke Car Care Bowl,
although UNC dropped a 19-17 decision to Pittsburgh in Charlotte. It was still
a solid season in Chapel Hill, as the bowl appearance marked back-to-back
postseason berths for the first time in 10 years.
OFFENSE: The Tar Heels were by no means an offensive juggernaut in 2009,
averaging a modest 307.8 yards of total offense, but with 10 starters
returning to the mix, improved numbers are expected this year.
The offensive line returns four of its five starters and continuity up front
should provide QB T.J. Yates with a sense of comfort. Yates completed 60
percent of his passes last season, but threw more INTs (15) than TD passes
(14) and will need to make better decisions this year to extend drives. He is
being pushed hard though by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner.
A seasoned receiving corps will help whoever is under center. highlighted by
senior Greg Little (62 receptions, 724 yards, five TDs) and sophomore Erik
Highsmith (37 receptions, for 425 yards and two TDs), who showed flashes of
brilliant play as a freshman in 2009. Highsmith may have to become even more
of a factor, if the NCAA rules against Little in its current review of
The team will also benefit from a slew of veteran rushers, led by the duo of
Ryan Houston (713 yards, nine TDs) and Shaun Draughn (567 yards, one TD).
DEFENSE: There is no doubt that the North Carolina defense is the driving
force in Chapel Hill and is regarded as perhaps the best stop unit in the
country heading into 2010. The squad, which effectively stopped the run (95.6
ypg) and the pass (174.0 ypg) last season, could be even better this year.
Nine of the 11 starters are back in the fold and as many as six of those guys
could hear their name called early in next year's NFL Draft.
The defensive line boasts of two of the nation's very best in rush end Robert
Quinn and stalwart defensive tackle Marvin Austin. The 6-5, 270-pound Quinn
earned First-Team All-ACC honors in 2009, racking up 52 tackles, 19 TFLs and
11 sacks, despite being just a sophomore. Austin (6-3, 305) is a monster in
the middle (42 tackles, four sacks), but could miss minimal time or the entire
season depending on the pending NCAA investigation. There is plenty of talent
to assuage the possible loss though, as LBs Quan Sturdivant (79 tackles, 11
TFLs, one sack) and Bruce Carter (65 tackles, two sacks) are as good as it
gets at their respective positions. The secondary is stacked as well, with
All-American candidates in Kendric Burney (52 tackles, five INTs), Charles
Brown (66 tackles, three INTs) and Deunta Williams (47 tackles, six INTs) all
possessing big play ability.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game returns intact, with junior PK Casey Barth and
junior P Grant Schallock. Barth was a Second-Team All-ACC member in 2009,
converting 21-of-25 field goals. Schallock averaged just over 40 yards on 65
punts, with eight of those going for 50 or more yards. Safety Da'Norris Searcy
was solid in his return duties last season (14.6 yards per punt return and one
TD) and will likely handle that job again in 2010.
OUTLOOK: Davis has a veteran squad that he hopes will help some of the
youngsters prepare for the rigors of a full season.
"I think the character of your football team gets put to the test in the
middle of August. Your leaders, seniors or starters have to become the
encouragers. They have to push guys past the limit of just having to survive
practice and actually relish the opportunity to get better."
However, a current NCAA review won't make things easy for this program. It
will be up to Davis to concentrate on the things he can control, that being
the play on the field.
"As we go through this review, you know, there's things obviously that the
NCAA has asked us not to talk about. The one thing that I can tell you and
share with you is that at the University of North Carolina, we are doing
absolutely everything from a cooperating standpoint. The NCAA has assured us
that they will make this as quick and as soon as possible; that they'll
There is no doubt that the 2010 season for North Carolina will depend largely
on the play of the offense, because the defense won't give up many points. How
well Yates and company move the football should determine where the Tar Heels
finish in the Coastal Division.
The defense will get put right to the test in the season-opener, with a
showdown with LSU in a neutral site affair in Atlanta. The remainder of the
non-conference schedule includes a road trip to Rutgers and a pair of home
games against East Carolina and William & Mary. Winning three of those games
would be huge for this team. The ACC slate is never easy, but some of the
hardest games for UNC at least come in Chapel Hill in the form of Georgia
Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech and NC State. Road trips to Miami and Florida
State won't be easy either, but treks to Virginia and Duke are much more
favorable matchups. The defense is going to be there each week, but a middle
of the road finish in the Coastal Division is likely unless the offense steps