Dr. Saturday

Debriefing: North Carolina needs to put the NCAA in the rearview

The least you should know about the 2011 Tar Heels. Part of ACC Week.

Stepping out of the NCAA shadow. For the second consecutive season, UNC will play under a cloud of NCAA uncertainty. Last month, the school received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA outlining several "potential major violations" in the football program, including a failure to monitor the conduct of former and current players, and the unethical practices of a former coach.

The school still has to answer the allegations and won't actually go before the NCAA's infractions committee in Indianapolis until Oct. 28 -- the day before the team is scheduled to play Wake Forest. In the meantime, the Tar Heels need to keep their heads in the game and not let their season be derailed by this potential scandal.

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But this isn't new territory for North Carolina. The Tar Heels went through something similar a year ago when it had to suspend 13 players for its opener against LSU. As the year trekked on, players were either declared ineligible for the entire season or reinstated, and every week the questions were more about the NCAA than what was happening on the field.

Still, North Carolina managed to shake off everything that was going on off the field and put together an 8-5 season on it.

Now the question is, can they do that again?

Honestly, North Carolina's best chance for an ACC title was probably a year ago before key ineligible players decimated the team. While this year's team has some talent, and will probably be good enough for a winning season, it's going to need several young players to grow up fast and for depth to emerge quickly.

Safety first. Sophomore Bryn Renner will step in as the Tar Heels new quarterback this year, but all the team needs out of him is not to make mistakes. Renner is blessed with three talented receivers in Dwight Jones (62 catches, 946 yards, four touchdowns), Erik Highsmith (25, 348, 3) and Jheranie Boyd (13, 310, 3), and running back Ryan Houston, who sat out last season, but showed promise in 2009.{YSP:MORE}

That's not to say that Renner isn't a capable quarterback. He showed flashes of what he could do during the spring game after completing 9-of-13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. After the game, Renner admitted he was pretty nervous, so there's no telling what his reaction will be when he opens the season in front of 60,000 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. At least his first game is against FCS opponent James Madison, which finished 6-5 last year.

Houston, we have a solution. It has not been a great year for North Carolina running back Ryan Houston. Houston was held out the first five games of last season while the NCAA determined his eligibility status and ultimately ended up redshirting. During the spring game, Houston suffered a broken shoulder blade that required surgery.

Houston led the team in rushing in 2009 with 191 carries for 713 yards and nine touchdowns, and is the only returning RB worth his salt. He'll be counted on to lead the team, especially with a new quarterback and a new right guard and tackle. Still, Houston proved as a junior that he had the ability to carry the load and with this being his last year of eligibility, he could have a breakout season if he stays healthy. If he doesn't, the Tar Heels could have some serious offensive issues.

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