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Inside Carolina's Greg Barnes breaks down North Carolina prior to Saturday's game against Illini

Inside Carolina's Greg Barnes answers five key questions for Illini Inquirer to help preview Saturday's primetime showdown between Illinois and North Carolina

1. North Carolina took a huge step forward last season, winning 11 games and getting to the ACC title game. UNC returns 14 starters from last season, so even with an opening loss to Georgia, how high are expectations for the Tar Heels in 2016? Is Fedora making a basketball fan base more interested in football (we know what that's like around here)?

Greg Barnes: The expectations in Chapel Hill are as high as they have been since the Mack Brown era. UNC's offense returns seven starters and the defense is expected to make significant strides in Year Two under Gene Chizik. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been the heir apparent for some time now, and those around the program have consistently said he's a better passer than Marquise Williams. Does he have the leadership and ability to make plays out of nothing that Williams so often did? That remains to be seen. The fan base is already planning for a second consecutive trip to the ACC Championship Game.

2. What did you learn about the Tar Heels in the 33-24 Week One loss to Georgia? UNC bounced back from a Week One loss against South Carolina last year. What corrections must they make in Week Two to repeat that bounceback?

Barnes: For one, Georgia appears to be a much better team than South Carolina was last year. Watching the SC game, the entire press box was wondering aloud if UNC was really going to blow the opportunity. That wasn't the case on Saturday night against the Bulldogs. As far as what we learned, I think run defense is still a bit of an issue. The Tar Heels missed 17 tackles and lost gap contain on a number of plays. Also, Trubisky was inconsistent in his first career start and didn't live up to the hype, although Georgia's defense is legit. Biggest question mark for me was how a team this experienced fell apart after leading by 10 late in the third quarter.  

3. The Tar Heels lost dual-threat QB Marquise Williams, receiver Quinshad Davis and guard Landon Turner but returns RB Elijah Hood, WR/KR Ryan Switzer, WR Mack Hollins and a very experienced offensive line. How has their offense changed for the better and/or worse since last season?

Barnes: There's going to have to be more of a reliance on the skill positions. Williams had to do everything himself in 2014, and was able to take a step back in 2015. Trubisky is stepping into a much better situation with the majority of his weapons back and a year older. Less zone read, more handoffs to Hood and T.J. Logan. One important question will have to be answered: who steps into Davis' role as a go-to possession-type receiver? No one took that role in Week 1.  

4. The Tar Heels' Achilles' heel recently has been the defense. They seem to look the part athletically and return seven starters on that side of the ball. Is the UNC defense ready to take the next step and what is their identity on defense?

Barnes: Biggest difference for the defense is another year in Chizik's system. They were incredibly base last year, by design. Chizik has added much more complexity to his defense this year, so that alone should help improve the defense. UNC is lacking studs upfront - outside of maybe Naz Jones - so the depth will be a critical factor in giving the line a chance to compete. UNC has to avoid injuries in its front seven to succeed.

5. Illinois kept last year's game competitive in the first half but receiver drops, the UNC run game and Ryan Switzer crushed them over four quarters. What are your keys to Saturday's primetime showdown and what is your score prediction?

Barnes: Illinois looked really good on the road last year until UNC stoned them at the goal line. That inspired the Tar Heels and they were off to the races. I don't expect a Lovie Smith-coached team to be quite that fragile, and I think playing a home under the lights will provide a significant adrenaline boost for the Illini. I do think UNC is the better team, but if Illinois keeps the crowd involved into the second half, anything can happen. I've got UNC winning, 35-24.

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