North Carolina Tar Heels: CFN College Football Preview 2021

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College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the North Carolina football season with what you need to know.

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
North Carolina Schedule Analysis
North Carolina Tar Heels Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 8-4 overall, 7-3 in ACC
Head Coach: Mack Brown, 3rd year, 15-10; 12th year overall at UNC, 84-55-1, (259-132 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 14
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 17
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 59

North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense was a whole lot of fun, there was a whole lot of explosion, and there was a whole lot of production. Now there are a whole lot of key parts gone, but the infrastructure is sound.

The Tar Heels had the most efficient passing attack in the ACC, they were fifth in the nation in total offense and ninth in scoring – averaging 537 yards and 42 points per game – and expect more of the same as long as the main man stays healthy.

There needs to be a little roll slowing on the Sam Howell For Heisman talk, but after hitting 68% of his passes and with a phenomenal first two years as the Tar Heel quarterback, he’s worthy of the hype.

The running game might have been a bit more fun at times, but Howell is the best player, the one who opens things up down the field, and has the NFL skills to take the Mack Brown era to another level. New recruit Drake Maye might be the star of the near future, but there’s an issue if Howell goes down.

Now Howell needs guys to throw to with Dyami Brown on the Washington Football Team and Dazz Newsome a Chicago Bear. Third-leading receiver Khafre Brown averaged over 22 yards per catch. TE Garrett Walston is a good downfield threat – catching 19 passes and two scores – and Howell will make the receivers better, but …

The offensive line has to be better in pass protection. Size is hardly the problem for this group, and it got the job done for the ground game, but it wasn’t great at keeping defenses out of the backfield. All five starters are expected back around all-star Joshua Ezeudu at left guard and Jordan Tucker at one of the tackle spots.

Now they need the runners to block for.

Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined to average close to 7.5 yards per carry with 28 touchdowns – Williams scored 19 of them. Howell ran for five, and the rest of the Tar Heels combined for two, and one came from Newsome.

Ty Chandler is coming in from Tennessee to take over, but British Brooks and DJ Jones- two 5-10ish, 205ish sized backs – will be a part of the rotation.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
North Carolina Schedule Analysis

NEXT: North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Defense

North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The defense had a few meltdowns, it had a few key moments when it couldn’t hold on, and now star LB Chazz Surratt is gone, but there’s a chance this group rises up and becomes a whole lot more consistent.

Just about everyone else is back other than Surratt from a D that allowed 401 yards and 29 points per game. The pass rush was and will be fine, the run defense and the production against the run was solid, but there have to be more takeaways, more stops in the red zone, and more tackles for loss.

Yeah, Newsome took his 91 tackles are on the Minnesota Vikings, but the Tar Heels have linebackers. Eugene Asante has bulked up a bit to get to 220 pounds, and he showed a glimpse of what’s coming with a ten-tackle game in the bowl loss to Texas A&M.

225-pound Jeremiah Gemmel was second with 78 tackles, and hybrid Tomon Fox is a 265-pound pass rusher who’ll work in a variety of ways. He’s a linebacker with end size, and 290-pound Tomari Fox is an end with tackle size.

There’s a deep combination of tackles around 300-pound Raymond Vohasek on the nose. He’s a good enough interior pass rusher to be moved around with all of the other strong options to fill in where needed.

No Tar Heel came up with more than one pick, but the secondary gets all the starters back from the bowl game starting with Trey Morrison, Don Chapman and Cam’Ron Kelly all solid tacklers at safety, and that’s just part of the puzzle – it’s a deep group to play around with.

The corners need to come up with more picks, but the combination of Tony Grimes, Kyler McMichael and Storm Duck is fantastic – they’re solid veterans who know what they’re doing.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
North Carolina Schedule Analysis

NEXT: North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best North Carolina Tar Heels Offensive Player

QB Sam Howell, Jr.
All set to go to Florida State, he pivoted over to North Carolina late in the process and was brilliant. He threw for over 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns with just seven picks as a true freshman, and he followed it up by hitting 68% of his throws, averaging over ten yards per pass, and cranking out close to 3,600 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The 6-1, 225-pounder is a terrific pro style passer with the arm, the moxie, and now the experience to carry the Tar Heel offense to a whole other level. He’s a first round draft pick if he leaves after this year, and before he’s done he should finish with over 10,000 yards and 100 touchdown passes.

2. OT Jordan Tucker, Sr.
3. RB Ty Chandler, Jr.
4. OG Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.
5. OG Marcus McKethan, Sr.

Related

2021 North Carolina Football Schedule: Analysis, Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Best North Carolina Tar Heels Defensive Player

LB Tomon Fox, Sr.
A powerful outside linebacker who could work on the end, the 6-4, 265-pound veteran fits the defense full of experience – he’s the standout big playmaker. He’s got a burst into the backfield, he’s tough against the run, and he’ll fit a variety of schemes at the next level.

In his sixth season, he followed up a seven sack, ten tackle for loss season with seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Now with all the talent around him taking up attention he’ll do it all again.

2. LB Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.
3. DE Tomari Fox, Jr.
4. DT Raymond Vohasek, Sr.
5. S/CB Trey Morrison, Sr.

Top Incoming North Carolina Tar Heels Transfer

RB Ty Chandler, Sr.
He fits. The Tar Heels might have lost a few superstars at running back in Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, and they might have a few nice parts and prospects ready to fill in, but Chandler should be the one who takes over the ground game.

The 6-1, 210-pound transfer from Tennessee ran for over 2,000 yards with 13 scores, and he caught 58 passes as one of the few bright spots for the Vol O over the last four years. He’s in Chapel Hill to run for 1,000 yards.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
North Carolina Schedule Analysis

NEXT: North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

North Carolina Tar Heels Biggest Key: Offense

Keep that rushing production going, but first …

Keep The Franchise upright.

The O line should be one of the team’s biggest strengths – especially with so many skill parts gone – but it has to do a far, far better job in pass protection.

The Tar Heels allowed 34 sacks, and while part of that came from Sam Howell waiting to let the big play develop, and part of that was his ability to hang tough and get popped, the line has to keep that No. 7 jersey clean.

Virginia, Notre Dame, Boston College and Texas A&M all came up with four or more sacks – that can’t happen again.

Really, though, it’s about the ground game for his attack. North Carolina ran for 93 yards against Virginia – and lost. It ran for 90 yards against Texas A&M and 87 against Notre Dame – lost and lost. It ran for 184 yards in the loss to Florida State, but it also got hit for way too many plays in the backfield.

Yeah, rushing for 200 yards or more is great for everyone, but North Carolina was 5-0 when it did that last season and is 10-0 in Part 2 of the Mack Brown era when getting there.

North Carolina Tar Heels Biggest Key: Defense

Where are all the takeaways? The Tar Heels were aggressive, they had a whole slew of veteran playmakers, and they had several solid performances, but they also had a bad habit of not forcing turnovers.

They came up with four in the win over NC State, and an underwhelming two against a Duke team that gave away the ball like Halloween candy.

That was about it. Those were the only two games the Tar Heels forced multiple turnovers, and that’s not right.

They spread out five takeaways over the other nine games with just three recovered fumbles all year. How many times did the 2019 defense take the ball away multiple times? Seven.

North Carolina Tar Heels Key Player To A Successful Season

WR Khafre Brown, Soph.
There’s a whole lot of young talent on the Tar Heel receiving corps, but it’s still asking too much to quickly replace the 109 catches and 14 touchdowns from Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome.

Khafre Brown was the third-leading receiver in yards with 337 on his 15 catches for two scores, but he’s not alone when it comes explosion. Beau Corrales averaged over 18 yards per catch, Josh Downs looks like a keeper with three scores and 17 yards per grabs, and other speedsters are around to stretch the field.

Can any of them grow into a 60-grab volume catcher? If Brown can keep hitting home runs, that’s fine, too.

North Carolina Tar Heels Key Game To The 2021 Season

at Virginia Tech, Sept. 2
Don’t … drop … the opener.

The schedule overall isn’t bad – translation: no Clemson – but there are just enough landmines to potentially screw up any dreams of at least getting to the ACC Championship with a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Lose in Blacksburg to kick things off, and forget it.

The Tar Heels won a wild 56-45 thriller last year to break a run of four straight Hokie wins in the series. This is a good Virginia Tech team that also wants to make an early statement – it needs this home win.

The North Carolina can pull this off, as long as there’s no gag at home against a Virginia, Florida State or Miami, 7-0 is possible before going to Notre Dame.

North Carolina Football Schedule Breakdown & Analysis

2020 North Carolina Tar Heels Fun Stats

– 1st Quarter Scoring: North Carolina 156 – Opponents 64
– Onside Kicks: Opponents 1-of-7 – North Carolina 0-of-0
– Average Yards Per Carry: North Carolina 5.8 – Opponents 4.3

NEXT: North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

North Carolina Tar Heels College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Mack Brown has always occupied an interesting space in the college football coaching world.

He’s already in the College Football Hall of Fame, he’s still a phenomenal recruiter, he won a whole lot of games, and above all else, he’s a good dude.

Brilliant with the alumni, great with the media, and again, terrific when it comes time to sell a kid on a school, he’s a special head coach and – arguably – a bit underappreciated and underrated.

The 2005 Texas team will always be remembered for “the Vince Young game” in the historic national championship win over USC, but Brown doesn’t get enough credit for how he and his staff had the Longhorns laser-focused all year and frothing at the mouth for that one giant game.

That was as ready and as prepared a team for the moment as possible.

But as amazing as his time at Texas was, Oklahoma was a brick wall that was seemingly always in the way, just like Florida State was the barrier in Brown’s first run at North Carolina and Clemson is now.

But after just two years of a rebuild, Brown has the guys, and he’s got the schedule to possibly have that big breakthrough season that feels so very close.

Set The North Carolina Tar Heels Regular Season Win Total At … 9.5

A few key guys sat out late in 2020 so there’s a technicality to this, but yeah, around 20 starters from the Orange Bowl loss to Texas A&M are expected to be back.

Sam Howell might be the top quarterback off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft, the defense is loaded with soon-to-be All-ACC stars, and there’s a whole lot of talented depth to go along with the veterans up top.

And there’s no Clemson on the slate.

There’s still a prove it factor, though, considering North Carolina lost to Florida State and Virginia – and the 15-10 record over the last two years under Brown isn’t that great – but again, start with not having to deal with Clemson and go from there.

There’s the unfortunate road game against a Notre Dame program that’s kept around by the ACC to screw things up for its full-member schools, and the date at Virginia Tech to start the season and at NC State to end it are nasty, but go ahead and call this the second-best team in the ACC – it’s supposed to win those tough games.

Texas didn’t get to double-digit wins until Brown’s fourth year, and he didn’t get North Carolina to ten wins until six years into his first run.

This year’s team might do it after just two seasons.

This year’s team might become a real, live challenger for the ACC Championship.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
North Carolina Schedule Analysis