Plenty of questions for Heels|Team’s worries extend beyond NCAA probe

Published 9:26 am Sunday, August 8, 2010

By By J.P. Giglio, McClatchy Newspapers
Realistically, there’s only one question for North Carolina’s football program as practice continues: What effect will the NCAA investigation have on the players and coaches involved?
Until that’s answered by the NCAA, which returned to Chapel Hill on Wednesday, the program is in waiting mode.
When the actual football season starts for the Tar Heels, who are coming off consecutive 8-5 seasons, the following questions will have to be answered for the program to make an expected breakthrough in coach Butch Davis’ fourth season:
1. Is the offense older or better?
The good news: UNC has back eight starters on offense. The bad news: UNC has back eight starters from an offense that ranked 102nd in passing, 108th in total offense and 83rd in scoring offense (which was boosted by five touchdowns by the defense and special teams).
Since improvement is unlikely to come from new blood, although two freshmen, tackle James Hurst and running back Gio Bernard, should help, it will have to come from experience.
Senior quarterback T.J. Yates has to improve his decision-making (37 career interceptions) or he will be replaced by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner.
The offensive line, which had 10 starting combinations in 13 games, has to stay healthy and do an all-around better job, because the running game, ranked 79th nationally, was not great shakes either, in 2009.
2. Will the Heels focus on the task at hand?
Besides the NCAA distraction, UNC has to overcome its own lack of consistency.
Since a 4-8 debut under Davis in 2007, UNC has gone 13-10 against Bowl Subdivision opponents.
Against teams that finished the season with a winning record, Davis is 11-6 but 2-4 against teams that finished with a losing record.
That’s the definition of playing to the level of your competition, a pattern UNC has to break to contend for the Coastal Division title.
3. Will the defense limit its lapses?
UNC fielded the ACC’s best defense in 2009 and has nine starters from that unit, including seven NFL prospects.
The Heels ranked No. 6 nationally in total defense, No. 10 against the run and No. 13 in scoring but there were lapses during the season.
Florida State erased an 18-point second-half deficit, and quarterback Christian Ponder threw for almost 400 yards.
N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson carved up the secondary for four touchdowns in UNC’s loss in Raleigh.
Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis ran for 159 yards in the Meineke Bowl and allowed the Panthers to drive 79 yards on 17 plays for the winning points when one stop would have won the game.
Even with all of UNC’s statistical success on defense last season, there’s still room for improvement.
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