Apr 2

The States of College Football: North Carolina

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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There are as many good coaches in North Carolina as there are in any state in the Union. The list of names is impressive: Butch Davis, Jim Grobe, Skip Holtz, Tom O'Brien, David Cutcliffe and Jerry Moore. Each one of those coaches has a winning background, and each is poised to take their respective schools to the next level. Here is a spring-time look at the programs of the Tar Heel state.

North Carolina Tar Heels (ACC Coastal): UNC had a very solid year in 2008, improving to 8-5 from 4-8 the year before. But the Heels let an exclamation point on a big season get away when a back and forth Carquest Bowl with West Virginia went the Mountaineers way late in the 4th quarter. The game would have been a great boost into the off-season, but it just wasn't to be. Still though, the Heels have improved two years in a row, and big things seem to be ahead.

Butch Davis clearly has North Carolina on the right track, and he is talking about a long-term stay in Chapel Hill. In a recent TV interview, Davis said the long-term commitment he received from AD Dick Baddour, as well as the University itself, were a major reason he chose UNC when he was available for a coaching position two years ago. The facilities at UNC, though Kenan Stadium sits just 65,000, are second to none. A few little additions here and there to the stadium and practice facilities, and Davis will have everything he needs to win the ACC Championship.

In 2009, UNC will feature a trio of qbs in TJ Yates, Mike Paulus and Braden Hanson. Yates is the front-runner at this point. He played a good bit at the beginning and end of last season, but sat out in the middle of the year. What he will not have is freak receiver Hakeem Nicks, who bolted to the NFL after putting on a show in the Carquest Bowl.

On defense, the Heels should be very strong as nine of eleven starters are slated to return in 2009. The depth is also young as Davis has recruited UNC in the rivals top 20 two years running. All four guys up front return, as well as three of four in the scondary.

UNC will most definitely be a factor in the ACC Coastal race in 2009. In fact, the Heels should battle Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech for the Division Title. Miami is still down, though getting better, and Virginia and Duke are not all that strong.

NC State Wolfpack (ACC Atlantic): I have always wondered why NC State wasn't one of the top prgrams in the South. They love their football in Raleigh, and pack Carter-Finley Stadium (no pun intended) to capacity each and every season despite little success. Good coaches have come and gone through NC State, including Lou Holtz and Dick Sheridan among others, but the 'Pack has yet to make national noise on the grid-iron.

Tom O'Brien is another good coach who now paces the sidelines for the Wolf Pack. O'Brien is a disciplinarian, and proved that his style can win when he led Boston College to the ACC Title Game in 2007. Now, it is time to see if he can lead NC State to an Atlantic Division Title and a trip to the ACC Title Game. The Pack struggled in 2008, going 6-7. But they finished the season by winning four of five games and look ahead to 2009. 

On offense, NC State will go with Russell Wilson at qb. The 5'11" sophomore had ample playing time in 2008 and should shine in '09. He will have play-maker back Toney Baker behind him. Baker has missed virtually all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to knee injuries, but says he feels 100 percent ready for 2009.

On defense, NC State should be pretty solid. Six seniors will hunt the football and no freshmen are slated to take over a starting position - a sign that says the players returning are good ones. The entire defensive front is made up of seniors.

NC State will have a tough time winning the ACC Atlantic in 2009, but stranger things have certainly happened. Florida State will be the division favorite with Clemson, BC and Wake Forest right behind. NC State and Maryland, with just a few breaks, can join in the mix in what will be a wide-open Atlantic in 2009.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (ACC Atlantic): Ten years ago, folks didn't know a whole heck of a lot about Wake Forest Football. Wake was a typical ACC "basketball" school, and the Deacons were sort of a joke on the football field. But in came Jim Grobe in 2001, and the 2000's have been a tremendous run for Wake Forest football. The run includes four bowl games, three bowl wins, and a 2006 ACC Title and trip to the Orange Bowl. Wake also had the ACC rookie-of-the-year in Riley Skinner in 2006.

Grobe's offenses have been hard to understand for years, so I will certainly not attempt to break it down here in this article. But quite simply it is a mis-direction running attack where it is tough to tell who has the ball. A simple passing game is mixed in, and most importantly, Grobe and his staff get the right plays called in at the right times.

In 2009, Wake will have Skinner back for his senior year of play. Skinner has already accounted for 34 touchdowns and nearly 7,000 yards in his Demon Deacon career.  He will have running back Josh Adams behind him. Adams has sixteen touchdowns and 1,400 yards in his first two seasons and will be an all-conference candidate in 2009.

On defense, Wake Forest will have little coming back. The key to Wake Forest's season will be keeping this unit off of the field as much as possible. The Deacons lost eight starters off of the 2008 defense due to graduation.

Duke Blue-Devils (ACC Coastal): David Cutcliffe is yet another good coach in the Triangle. He left Tennessee as offensive-coordinator to come to Duke two seasons ago and inherited a program that was arguably the worst in America. The Devils were 1-11 and had won just four games in the four seasons before Cutcliffe's Arrival. In his first season in Durham, Cutcliffe not only won a couple of games, but he led Duke to four wins and even won an ACC game.

Now, I do not look for Duke to become a serious factor in the ACC. I just think the facilities are not there and the athletes are inferior. Yes, they will win a few games and pull an upset or two here and there. But I think if you are a Duke fan you might should stick to lacrosse. An interesting fact with Duke is that they ride the all-time win see-saw at 442–439–31 (a .501 mark for their history) going into 2009.

In 2009, Duke will have an offense featuring Thaddues Lewis, a senior, and Sean Renfree, a freshman at quarterback. The unique thing here is that those are the only two guys on scholarship at quarterback and they will get all of the reps in practice. Cutcliffe says this unique situation is dangerous, but that the quarterbacks will develop extra-strong skills and know the game-plan all that much better for the extra reps.

East Carolina Pirates (Conference USA - East): This program is big-time on the rise under coach Skip Holtz. That name gets him into the living room with big-name high-school rcruits, and Holtz has a brought some good talent in in his four years in Greenville. Now, he wants to turn his latest team into a C-USA Champion.

The schedule has allowed him to make some noise, and 2009 is no different. The Pirates will play West Virginia, UNC and Virginia Tech. The Pirates have beaten each of those programs under Holtz. A year ago, the Pirates used an opening weekend win over Virginia Tech to propel them to a big season where they spent many weeks ranked in the top 25.

Appalachian State Mountaineers (Southern): Perhaps the class of the Tar Heel state comes in last in this article for no reason other than the division level in which they play. But for App State, you can throw that division stuff out the window. There is not a college team nationwide they fear after seeing that they could win in the Big House at Michigan. Yes, we all know the Wolverines werent what they once were (at least on that day), but the win symbolized the fact that the college football game in general is now wide-open.

Jerry Moore has led Appalachian State to a 178-73 record in his 20 years in Boone. He also, by the way, has brought home three national championships and seven conference championships. His teams have made the playoffs in 14 of 20 years. That is very impressive at any level of competition in any sport.

Believe it or not, all-world quarterback Armanti Edwards returns to the field yet again this fall. The reason it seems he has been there forever is because he started as a freshman. I love this guy because he hails from my hometown of Greenwood, SC, home of the Eagles - one of the top high-school programs in the South year in and year out. As he enters his senior season with the Mountaineers, Edwards has already produced an unreal 62 passing touchdowns and over 7,100 yards. On top of that, Edwards has rushed for another 47 - yes, 47! - touchdowns and another 3,682 yards on the ground. That is unbelievable - and the dude has a year left! I had to double check these stats on several different sites to make sure I was seeing it correctly! To add to all of this unbelievableness, Edwards played most of last fall - his best season yet - with a nagging knee injury. He had successful surgery and should return at full strength in 2009.

So there it is, a quick look around the Tar Heel state of North Carolina. This state should provide some very interesting story-lines in 2009. Will UNC or NC State bust through and win a division? Can App State win another national title? Will Armanti Edwards be considered seriously for the Heisman? Can Duke get over the .500 mark?

We will begin to find about in about five months!.....




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