The 2001 North Carolina Tar Heels had the best defense in the ACC. Despite surrendering 108 points in its first three games - most of which were due to offensive turnovers and lousy special teams play - the Heels rebounded well and combined a unique ferocity with lateral athletic ability to rank as the league's best unit. This year, however, should be different.
The strength of Carolina's defense will be a fairly deep and talented defensive backfield. That bunch may not be tested as much as last year because opposing teams will likely try to establish the run against the Heels' thin and inexperienced defensive front.
UNC will have three new starting linebackers, none of whom have much experience. But it's the defensive line that will give opposing coaching staffs confidence they can run against UNC, especially between the tackles.
Tackle Will Chapman is expected back at some point after suffering a terrible knee injury in a win at Clemson last October, but likely won't return to 2001 form until late September, perhaps after Miami (OH), Syracuse, Texas and Georgia Tech - four programs with quality to excellent ground attacks - have done battle with the Heels.
Tackle Eric Davis hasn't developed as expected and Daryl Grant and Donti Coats lack necessary experience for much optimism. UNC might be solid at the ends, where Isaac Mooring and the super athletic Jocques Dumas should develop into a quality tandem.
But the reality is that opposing teams, especially early and especially the aforementioned quartet, will likely run right at the Heels until Carolina proves it can stop the run.
The line isn't without ability, but one can make the argument: so goes the defensive front over the first month, so go the Tar Heels.
Another Early Commitment
A few weeks ago I wrote about the unfortunate trend of big time basketball schools offering scholarships to younger and younger hoopsters, and about the potential "dangers" of reeling in 16-year-olds with two years of high school remaining. The example I used was DeMarcus Nelson, who recently committed to Duke.
Many Duke fans took exception to my example, calling it an attack at the Blue Devils. The purpose of the bit, however, was to articulate my feelings over the state of recruiting.
This weekend's announcement that rising junior guard JamesOn Curry has committed to play at UNC is no less an example than the Nelson-Duke union.
I don't blame either Mike Krzyzewski or Matt Doherty for securing these fantastic athletes. They must do what is best for their programs, and if the current climate calls for such power programs to court young men weeks removed from driving with learner's permits, than they must do so.
The trend, however, has become a thorny reality where young men as far removed from junior high as they are away from college, have become such major focuses of recruiting outlets, such as Inside Carolina's dedicated coverage to the recruiting scene. I don't begrudge this publication or any other for covering athletes especially when such recruitments are indeed news, I just wish we could back-pedal a few years where only those very few who make their living in the industry are aware of talented sophomores.
Maybe I am too idealistic in this respect, but every once in a while that shouldn't be a bad thing!
The State of State's Slate
What do Mars Hill, Gardner-Webb, Central Connecticut State and American International have in common?
They are opponents of two N.C. State football opponents.
After I-AA East Tennessee State opens the season at Carter-Finley Stadium to take on Chuck Amato's Wolfpack, they return home to host Mars Hill before traveling to Gardner-Webb. Massachusetts, also I-AA, but a future I-A program, opens the season with a pair of home games against the Blue Devils of Central Conn. State and American International before traveling to Raleigh for its fourth game of the year.
The Wolfpack are expected to have one of their best teams in decades this fall, as so many key components return, including quarterback Philip Rivers, a second-tier Heisman candidate. State and Rivers, however, will be scrutinized heavily if they enter November 9-0 or 8-1, both realistic expectations.
The Wolfpack must hammer some quality ACC opponents if they are to earn the respect of the nation's voters and pundits, not to mention make an impact on the various computers that determine much of what happens with schools' early January travel plans.
Rivers will receive little positive reaction by throwing for 400 yards and six TDs against both the Minutemen and Buccaneers. In fact, he, as well as the team, may be penalized for such a slate that also includes Navy - winless last year - and New Mexico, which has just a handful of wining seasons over the past four decades. Only a trip to Texas Tech will offer any legitimate gauge on the Wolfpack versus non-ACC competition. It's possibly that anything less than 13-0 (the 'Pack play 13 regular season games) means no better than a trip to the Gator Bowl.
This week's question is how much do you think State's schedule will help or hurt them. Send me your e-mail to AndrewJones@am630.net and I will chose one response to post in next week's Musings.
Last Week's Response
Jon Gray, who resides in New York City and is a UNC graduate (Class of '93), was selected as this week's response to the question: Does anybody care about the NBA playoffs?
The NBA playoffs have been really fun to watch and there has been some GREAT basketball (from a technical AND emotional standpoint). Say what you will about the defensive lapses (that happen in every NBA game). The Kings and Lakers series really had a Titan vs. Titan feel to it & the emergence of Mike Bibby as a superstar was exciting to watch. Seeing a real player's player who plays the game with love and desire (and strong fundamentals) getting his deserved NBA props was a treat.
Andrew Jones is entering his seventh year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a drive-time radio show on ESPN Radio AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.