August 20, 2002
The Big Picture
Long called a "sleeping giant" by opposing coaches and other veteran observers of college athletics, the UNC football program came close to the mountaintop under Mack Brown in the 1990s. Seven straight bowls, back-to-back top-10 finishes, an awesome NFL pipeline and impressive facility improvements punctuated the decade in Chapel Hill. Then came the three-year Carl Torbush disaster. Second-year coach and former UNC player John Bunting definitely represents an upgrade in a wide variety of ways, but some potentially serious defensive holes and another tough schedule suggest that a winning season would be an accomplishment this fall. Of course, that's what everyone said last summer, before the Tar Heels finished 8-5 and won the Peach Bowl in Bunting's impressive debut.
The UNC coaches know very well that the 2002 Tar Heels will be walking a very fine line, and their public assessments have been a carefully selected balance of big-picture optimism and scalpel-like constructive criticism. They don't want to insert any doubt into the minds of a young, developing group that's still searching for its confidence. The staff understands that, thanks to some significant personnel deficiencies, the possibility of a disaster exists. They also believe that, thanks to the presence of nine or 10 very beatable teams on the schedule, the scenario for another surprise season is not unrealistic.
Done For Me Lately
|1992||5-3 (3)||9-3||Peach Bowl (W)|
|1993||6-2 (2)||10-3||Gator Bowl (L)|
|1994||5-3 (3)||8-4||Sun Bowl (L)|
|1995||4-4 (5)||7-5||Carquest Bowl (W)|
|1996||6-2 (2)||10-2||Gator Bowl (W)|
|1997||7-1 (2)||11-1||Gator Bowl (W)|
|1998||5-3 (4)||7-5||Las Vegas Bowl (W)|
|2001||5-3 (3)||8-5||Peach Bowl (W)|
ACC: 48-32 (.600); No. 3 in ACC
All: 79-41 (.658); No. 2 in ACC
Last year, the group mentioned in this space end Julius Peppers, tackle Ryan Sims, kicker Jeff Reed and receiver Bosley Allen ultimately proved to be the foundation for the Heels' successful season. With all four gone, however, the list isn't as easy to compile. Nevertheless, cornerback Michael Waddell and free safety Dexter Reid are legitimate All-America candidates; Waddell's shut-down cover ability and Reid's sideline-to-sideline tackling allow Dave Huxtable luxuries unavailable to most coordinators. On offense, fullback Madison Hedgecock combines with interior linemen Jason Brown, Jeb Terry and Jupiter Wilson to form a strong blocking nucleus, one of the staples of coordinator Gary Tranquill's success stories of the past.
Coming On Strong
QB Darian Durant is a proven and poised performer, in the best shape of his life, and a man on a mission. Transfer thoughts behind him, he sees an opportunity to become a three-year starter and wants to make the most of it. Challenger C.J. Stephens looks very good in practice, has a thorough understanding of the offense and lacks only game experience. The three-headed tailback of Andre' Williams, Willie Parker and Jacque Lewis looks solid. Senior Chesley Borders, sophomore Jarwarski Pollock and true freshman Derrele Mitchell provide quality depth at receiver behind Aiken. Zach Hilton and Bobby Blizzard form an experienced, reliable pair at tight end.
Cause For Concern?
UNC hasn't fielded a defensive front this inexperienced in more than a decade, and it may be another decade before it happens again. Consider this: Of the 14 players on the projected two-deep on the line and at linebacker, only one (DT Will Chapman) has more than a single career start. Ten of the 14 will be getting their first significant playing time on plays from scrimmage. On the offensive line, the starting tackles are average at best, and there's absolutely no proven depth. The kicking and punting games, with new personnel and shuffled coaching responsibilities, could be an adventure.
The Whole Truth
"People have kind of put our defense down because they're young and inexperienced, and I understand that. That's the challenge."
North Carolina coach John Bunting
CHART BY: THE UNC INSIDER