Surviving the Hype

GREENSBORO, Ga. – This much is known about the 2008 North Carolina football program – the Tar Heels have been picked to finish second in the ACC's Coastal Division, but the team's youth remains in abundance. Now the question is whether or not this success-starved squad can handle the hype.

"It was shocking and surprising, to be honest with you," UNC head coach Butch Davis said on Monday when asked about the preseason poll during his media session. "I had no preconceived notions as to where people would have picked [us], but my question is how many of those people that voted did they give sobriety tests to?"

But the possible fallout of the ever-growing praise is no laughing matter – North Carolina lists 27 freshmen or sophomores on its preseason depth chart, which presents the opportunity for big egos to rapidly develop before some of the players have tasted the rigors of a full ACC slate.

"I try not to look at all of the media stuff sometimes because it plays with your mind a little bit," said safety Deunta Williams, who is serving as the lone sophomore player representative this week at the ACC Football Kickoff. "It gets you thinking things that you shouldn't think sometimes."

Therein lies the problem. While consistently winning on the field builds legitimate confidence throughout a program, preseason prognostications only provide a temporary sugar rush that could easily fade away during the season opener.

Virginia Tech was voted No. 1 in the Coastal Division based primarily on the fact that the Hokies are the defending ACC Champions. North Carolina was selected No. 2 based on its potential to be good. While the Tar Heels were losing six games by 24 points last fall, they were also winning three games by 15 points.

In other words, earning distinction as the conference's trendy pick doesn't magically transpose a 4-8 record into a 8-4 mark.

"The older guys understand that it doesn't really mean anything until we get on the field," Williams said. "But some of the younger guys think that if you're picked preseason All-ACC, then you should be All-ACC at the end of the season. Well, if you don't produce, you're not going to be All-ACC."

Davis, of course, downplayed the relevance of the preseason poll, saying that the rankings were "insignificant" because the season is played one game at a time with a desire to improve with each passing week. But he stopped short of expressing concern that his young team would become too enamored with its new found fame.

"I would a lot rather those guys have huge high expectations of themselves [instead] of really self-doubting themselves," Davis said. "[You don't want] guys that are sitting there, saying, ‘Gosh, we're never going to win a game,' and beating themselves up psychologically. But I think that they have to temper themselves and they have to understand realistically how much of a challenge that it is."

And that responsibility falls on the veteran players that have already been through the grind of a full season without the media spotlight shining brightly on them.

"It's starts with the upperclassmen – guys like me and Deunta," junior wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "We can't let things like that happen. We've got to lead by example. The example that you [show] is going to rub off on the newcomers, so the atmosphere that we keep them in will dictate if that happens or not."

That leadership will be tested with a rough early season stretch that sandwiches road trips to Rutgers and Miami around a late September showdown with Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels could play well in their first four games, and still enter October with a 1-3 mark.

Williams insists that his teammates will be ready for whatever type of situation rolls into their path this fall. The Jacksonville, N.C. product did issue one complaint about the media poll, though.

"We definitely appreciate the love – it feels good to finally have some respect – but I feel like we should have been picked No. 1," Williams said.

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