CHAPEL HILL: Tar Heels aim to win wide-open ACC division race - WNCN: News, Weather

Tar Heels aim to win wide-open ACC division race

Posted: Updated:
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

North Carolina has optimism from a strong finish and motivation from watching a rival's surprise trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

And that has the Tar Heels talking about making their own run in the wide-open Coastal Division.

"Once you've put in so much work, you really can feel what you're working toward is actually a reality," linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. "All the work we've put in, we feel like we deserve something out of it."

The Tar Heels (7-6, 4-4 ACC) say they have the players to keep coach Larry Fedora's no-huddle offense humming, the experience to make an up-and-down defense show some consistency and a game-changing special teams performer in punt returner Ryan Switzer.

Is it enough to win a division with no clear favorite? The Tar Heels think so, citing Duke's division title last year with a bit of "Why not us?" mentality.

"It seems more attainable than it ever has since I've been here," offensive guard Landon Turner said. "I think we have the tools. We just have to put it to use."

The Tar Heels have finished at least .500 in league play each year under Fedora, with his first team finishing tied atop the division but missing a trip to the ACC title game due to NCAA sanctions. Last year's group clawed back from a 1-5 start and beat Cincinnati in a Belk Bowl rout.

Quarterback Marquise Williams returns as a run-pass threat, though he is fighting to keep the starting job against redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Receiver Quinshad Davis had 10 touchdown catches, while Switzer tied an NCAA single-season record with five punts returns for touchdowns as a freshman.

Freshmen and sophomores scored 46 of UNC's 55 touchdowns last year, a promising sign for the season that begins Aug. 30 against Liberty.

"Nobody's going to give us respect until we earn respect," Williams said. "That's what we've been practicing. I've been telling the guys, 'Don't think about something little. Think about the big things. Think about the ACC championship. Think about going and playing in the Orange Bowl.'"

Here are five things to watch for the Tar Heels this season:

QB PLAY: Williams began last season with spot duty, then gradually earned a timeshare with Bryn Renner before taking over when Renner was lost to injury. A two-QB system could take shape again. While Williams' experience gives him an edge on Trubisky, Fedora has proven willing to use two passers and said Monday the race is still ongoing.

SWITZER'S GROWTH: Can Switzer bring his game-changing plays to the offense? The sophomore had 32 catches for 341 yards and three scores as a receiver last year, but Fedora is expecting a leap forward. "I think people are waiting to see if I can add on to (the punt returns) offensively," Switzer said. "It hasn't been a problem with me so far."

UP FRONT: The offensive line lost tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine to the NFL. Now there are seven freshmen or sophomores on the preseason depth chart for a group that must open holes for returning tailback T.J. Logan and touted recruit Elijah Hood. "We're all committed to working hard and we want to prove people wrong," sophomore center Lucas Crowley said, "that the O-line is not the weak point."

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: UNC had the league's worst run defense and generated just 20 takeaways, tied for second lowest in the league. The low point was giving up 55 points and 603 yards in a lopsided loss to East Carolina. Fedora expects improvement in the third year in the 4-2-5 system. "They don't have to think about it anymore," he said. "They can react."

COASTAL FOES: If the Tar Heels want to win the division, they could start by figuring out how to beat Georgia Tech and Duke. Fedora is 0-4 against those division opponents. The Blue Devils have won two close meetings, while the Yellow Jackets have beaten UNC for five straight years. Georgia Tech plays at UNC on Oct. 18 while the Tar Heels travel to Duke on Nov. 20.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  • Trending StoriesMore>>

  • Letter found with body of App State student, police say

    Letter found with body of App State student, police say

    Monday, September 15 2014 5:16 PM EDT2014-09-15 21:16:12 GMT
    The body of Anna Smith was discovered in a heavily wooded area in Boone.The body of Anna Smith was discovered in a heavily wooded area in Boone.
    The Boone Police Department said a letter was discovered with the body of an Appalachian State University student, indicating her death may have been a suicide.
    The Boone Police Department said a letter was discovered with the body of an Appalachian State University student, indicating her death may have been a suicide.
  • 'Party mansion' owner convicted of tax and healthcare fraud

    'Party mansion' owner convicted of tax and healthcare fraud

    Friday, September 12 2014 12:38 PM EDT2014-09-12 16:38:35 GMT
    File photoFile photo
    A former Raleigh resident, known for the wild parties held at his “party mansion” in North Raleigh, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for tax fraud, healthcare fraud and money laundering crimes, according to a United States Department of Justice release.
    A former Raleigh resident, known for the wild parties held at his “party mansion” in North Raleigh, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for tax fraud, healthcare fraud and money laundering crimes, according to a United States Department of Justice release.
  • Urban Outfitters faces backlash for controversial sweatshirt

    Urban Outfitters faces backlash for controversial sweatshirt

    Monday, September 15 2014 12:43 PM EDT2014-09-15 16:43:43 GMT
    The website of clothing outlet Urban Outfitters featured a controversial, one-of-a-kind shirt briefly Monday morning before it sold, but not before causing a stir on the Internet.
    The website of clothing outlet Urban Outfitters featured a controversial, one-of-a-kind shirt briefly Monday morning before it sold, but not before causing a stir on the Internet.
  • Trending Stories on WNCN.com

  • UNC SportsMore>>

  • Tar Heels hope to improve tackling against Pirates

    Tar Heels hope to improve tackling against Pirates

    Monday, September 15 2014 4:30 PM EDT2014-09-15 20:30:57 GMT
    San Diego State's Ezell Ruffin (3) runs the ball against North Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. North carolina won 31-27. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)San Diego State's Ezell Ruffin (3) runs the ball against North Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. North carolina won 31-27. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
    It's hard for North Carolina coach Larry Fedora to know exactly what kind of defense he has.
    It's hard for North Carolina coach Larry Fedora to know exactly what kind of defense he has.
  • Former walk-on Hollins making mark at WR for UNC

    Former walk-on Hollins making mark at WR for UNC

    Thursday, September 11 2014 6:58 PM EDT2014-09-11 22:58:23 GMT
    File PhotoFile Photo
    Mack Hollins has suddenly become a big-play receiving threat for North Carolina.
    Mack Hollins has suddenly become a big-play receiving threat for North Carolina.
  • No. 21 UNC holds on to beat San Diego State, 31-27

    No. 21 UNC holds on to beat San Diego State, 31-27

    Sunday, September 7 2014 7:19 AM EDT2014-09-07 11:19:42 GMT
    Make it two rallies in two weeks for No. 21 North Carolina, which erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half and then held on to beat San Diego State 31-27 on Saturday night after Tim Scott's interception in the end zone with 14 seconds left.
    Make it two rallies in two weeks for No. 21 North Carolina, which erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half and then held on to beat San Diego State 31-27 on Saturday night after Tim Scott's interception in the end zone with 14 seconds left.
Powered by WorldNow

1205 Front St., Raleigh
N.C., 27609

Telephone: 919.836.1717
Fax: 919.836.1687
Email: newstips@wncn.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.