Eddy: Challenges, Uncertainties for Bunting, Heels

CHAPEL HILL -- Sandbagging, poor mouthing, whatever you call it, is the art of downplaying one's own abilities while building the opposition to gargantuan proportions.

North Carolina's Dean Smith and N.C. State's Dick Sheridan were masters at this during their time. Penn State's Joe Paterno and South Carolina's Lou Holtz, both still going, should give clinics on the finer points of effervescent praise.

When all is said and done, UNC coach John Bunting may rival some of the greats with his ability to teach players and lead teams, but he will never match these guys in this subtle game of overstatement.

He gives the opposition its due respect, and he is often bluntly honest about his own team. And this is why his opening remarks Tuesday at his first press conference of the season are so glaring.

You know Bunting wasn't doing the old coaching soft-shoe when he gave us a glimpse that he is concerned about how this season may go for his Tar Heel football team.

"It certainly represents probably one of my greatest personal challenges of my life," Bunting said. "There have been some that have been more challenging, but this one will rank up there.

"Mostly that challenge right now is of the unknown, finding out about this football team and how it can play in a game situation. Many, many players will be learning on the job. And that's tough. That's tough on those young guys."

Before it's all said and done, it could be tough on the coaches and fans as well.

Bunting asked for the fans' patience and support. He promised to be positive and keep leading this team toward better times. In that vein, he said that he's excited about this team and is looking forward to the season.

I believe he is. I just also happen to believe he has seen the possibilities firsthand, and the depth of how far this team could fall isn't pretty.

And that is why he shuddered, if only for a moment.

"I knew when I came in here that we had some problems," Bunting said. "They are just more glaring probably (to the public) than they were to me, in terms of the depth at certain positions.

"We have a real challenge ahead of us to work with the players that we have, develop their talent and continue to recruit to get some other players in here to help us compete for the championship."

If this all of sounds like so much gloom and doom, it doesn't have to be. Uncertainty is the big word with this team. The offense appears to be strong and should score plenty of points.

The Tar Heels could enjoy a winning season. They could go to a second straight bowl. But no one, including Bunting, is real sure what to expect at this point.

"I knew we had a great defense last year," Bunting said. "I knew we had a chance to win every ball game if we didn't turn the ball over and screw it up in the kicking game. That included … Oklahoma and Texas.

"We messed it up in each one of those games, and therefore didn't have a chance: turnovers at Oklahoma and kicking game at Texas. This year is a different situation. That's why it represents a big challenge to all of us.

"Defensively, we're not as talented," Bunting said. "We're not as experienced. Therefore we're going to struggle at times. And when you think about the depth situation, if we get an injury or two, we could really struggle."

There is one sure thing. Darian Durant will be the quarterback, and that's good. Nothing against backup QB C.J. Stephens, but he hasn't performed to any extent in a college game, and he hasn't played at all in quite some time.

Durant is one of the most confident players you will ever see on a football field. The kid knows what he is doing, and he can make it happen.

"You can call it a comfort zone," Bunting said. "You can call it what you want. It's a fact. It's a fact that he has more experience and appears to be more comfortable and a little more poised. And we're going to need that kind of leadership in that position."

And that is about as sure as anything is going to get here in the opening week for the Tar Heels.

Eddy Landreth, a freelance writer from Pittsboro, N.C., is a former ACC beat writer for the Durham Herald-Sun, the Winston-Salem Journal and the Charlotte Observer.

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