The North Carolina Tar Heels are ranked 24th in the Sporting News College Football Preview. The program is picked to finish first in the ACC Coastal division, which wins them a trip to play FSU in the conference title game. The running game appears to be strong and the defense solid. And in his third season as head coach of the “basketball school".
Larry Fedora is going to try to do the same thing David Cutcliffe did at Duke – change the perception of the college to reflect it is not entirely a basketball school anymore. It’s a hard sell when Tobacco Road is still enshrined as a basketball community and everyone would rather watch a 20-foot jump shot than a three-yard first down, but slowly the eyes are looking at more than the leather and concentrating on the pigskin.
So far this year, Fedora has been pleased with what he has seen on the practice field.
“I was really pleased with the way they were moving around. It was your typical first day. We are in shorts. Everybody’s hopes are high. They’re excited. They were all flying around. But it was more about the recall for the coaches – seeing how much they had done over the summer and what they knew and didn’t know. We were really pleased,” Fedora says.
The first couple seasons under the Fedora regime has seen modest success for the Tar Heels, who’ve gone 15-10 overall with a Belk Bowl win putting an exclamation point on 2013.
But in year three in the system, Fedora says he expects things will come even easier for the Tar Heels.
“You have guys over there who have been in the system now for three years. They don’t have to think about it anymore. They can react. They can actually be as good as they can be. Now, they don’t have to worry about things. […] They can react to what they’re seeing and just play ball,” Fedora says.
This is a program over the years that has produced top talent like Eric Ebron on offense and Lawrence Taylor on defense. It is a program that right now could be the second best in the conference – a conference with FSU, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Virginia Tech. That is pretty high praise for Fedora and where UNC was three years ago and where it is now.
Last year, James Franklin took a Vanderbilt team that was a perennial losing program and took it to a bowl game, recruited well and proved a school with more academic ties than show strings could be a winner. That opened the doors for Franklin to make Penn State and Happy Valley his new home.
Should another big time program (Florida, Miami, Virginia Tech) have an opening at the end of the season, could the same results by Fedora lead to another more prosperous gig? I sure think so.
But for now, Fedora is concentrating on the obvious – preparation for season where the team should be 3-0 before a three-week stretch that includes Clemson, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
The No. 1 question as the season creeps ever closer will continue to be the status of the starting quarterback. Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky continue to duke it out on the Navy Field practice facility.
But although Coach Fedora won’t tip his hand on his starter, he has revealed the winning criteria for the job.
“It’s going to be who makes the offense most productive. It’s going to be who’s the most productive player on the field and who makes the offense most productive. On top of that, it’s going to be who leads this team the best. Those are two major factors for us,” Fedora says.