Following a disappointing year in which its offense didn't nearly live up to preseason expectations, North Carolina hopes to ride the star power of quarterback Darian Durant to a more successful season despite a brutal schedule (UNC's first three opponents are Florida State, Syracuse and Wisconsin).
Getting UNC's offense on track won't be easy, because while Durant is one of the top quarterbacks in the country, the Tar Heels haven't had a productive running game in years. While Wisconsin has enjoyed 1,000-yard rushers every year over the past decade, UNC hasn't had a 600-yard rusher since 1997.
Here is a look at what UNC's offense has to offer heading into the fall:
When Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove begins his preparation for UNC, there's no secret where he will begin his efforts. The most important factor for the Badgers, and every UNC opponent this season, is to contain Durant. The 5-11, 218-pound junior threw for 2,123 yards in just eight games last year. His total would have ranked 10th in the nation, but a thumb injury in a 37-27 loss to Virginia caused him to miss four games, leaving him one game shy of the NCAA minimum (nine) to be included in those rankings.
Durant, the UNC career leader in completion percentage, has a rocket arm despite his lack of size. He led the ACC in total offense with 285.6 yards per game in the air and 16 touchdowns.
If Durant is injured again, senior C.J. Stephens will handle quarterback duties. Stephens stepped in and threw for 931 yards and four touchdowns in Durant's absence last season.
If UNC is to keep defenses honest this fall, senior tailback Jacque Lewis must take his game to the next level. The 5-10, 197-pound returning starter led the Tar Heels with 574 yards and two touchdowns on 130 carries last season (4.4 yards per carry). With the entire offensive line returning, the UNC staff is expecting bigger things out of Lewis and the entire backfield.
If Lewis can't get the job done early, he could lose reps quickly. Kentucky transfer Chad Scott will push Lewis in fall camp, as will senior Willie Parker, who started two games last year. Parker had just 236 yards last year.
Coach John Bunting is looking for answers from this unit, after averaging just three yards per carry overall last season. For UNC to be a factor in the ACC, it needs more production in the running game.
While Durant has one of the best arms in the league, if not the nation, the Tar Heels don't have a star receiver for him to throw to. With the graduation of Sam Aiken and Chelsey Borders, the Tar Heels are looking for some fresh faces to step to the forefront.
The No. 1 receiver is likely to be 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Derrele Mitchell, who had an outstanding spring and has demonstrated great speed. Last season, he finished with 15 catches for 232 yards. The other starting receiver should be senior Brandon Russell, who saw limited action last year.
UNC fans are anxious to check out the new arrivals in a highly-touted recruiting class. Amongst the true freshmen that could find their way onto the field this fall is Jesse Holley, a 6-3, 190-pounder from Roselle, N.J. who was also recruited by Wisconsin.
Last year's offensive line was certainly nothing to write home about. But the Tar Heels return all five starters, which is one reason for enthusiasm amongst the UNC faithful. The Tar Heels' front line features two very highly-regarded pro prospects, Jason Brown and Jeb Terry.
Brown, a 6-3, 308-pound junior, set the UNC record for offensive linemen in the weight room with a 660-pound squat and a power clean of 392. Terry, a 6-6, 308-pound senior, has started for three years.
If the offensive line can give Durant adequate protection while improving its run-blocking, things will start to fall into place for UNC.
UNC Week: Offensive Preview
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