Blatant Homerism: UNC Football Might Actually Be…Good?

I was talking today with a fellow UNC alum about the upcoming season, and it got me thinking about how we as a fan base are feeling about the snafu that’s been this past year. Specifically, my friend mentioned how he was having trouble getting himself amped up for the start of what, on the surface, appears to be a lame-duck season for us Tar Heels. Let’s face it – this is not a good time to be a Carolina fan, as I wrote in my Firing Butch Davis piece. Once the novelty of football being back wore off (preseason NFL shitfest managed that pretty fast), my thoughts returned to Carolina as I thought, “This must be a tiny bit what it feels like to be a State fan.”

I know, I know, I JUST wrote an entire tome on how excited I am to put all this NCAA allegations shit behind us and play some damn football, and then two days after I posted the story the Miami scandal broke.

Fuck me.

Look! It's Charles Robinson!

Anyway, consider this my attempt to convince myself that this year, Carolina actually has a chance to be, in the words of every coach’s pre-game presser, “a pretty darn good football team.” I’m largely going to stay away from media-guide stuff – breakdowns of offensive prowess, defensive returnees, and similar stats – partially because others have promised to deal with it and partially because I’m an intellectual laze. But by the end, I’ll probably be ready to storm the field, sweaty-Nevin-Shapiro style.

We’re about the same height. It’s cool.

1.  Coaching continuity. Captain Obvious disclaimer: Interim head coach Everett Withers is a total unknown as far as head coaching goes. Holding the defensive coordinator spot for the two seasons prior to Butch Davis’ dismissal was his highest-held post to date. Thus, due to his inexperience Withers is highly unlikely to implement his own system or do much beyond tweaking the current Carolina game plan, in part because as a first-time head coach, he doesn’t really have his own system. What a pessimist sees as a weakness, I see as a strength: one of the things Carolina was finally getting right with Davis was a modicum of competent continuity (I say “competent” because previous coach John Bunting’s continuity was of the soul-crushing variety).

For all I know, Withers may turn out to be a spread offense maniac, but for now, he’s most likely to steer a straight course through Davis waters: pro-style offense and a conservative defense.

One more note about Withers: most of his coaching background is on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the secondary. It isn’t a coincidence that the interim head coach – chosen over other in-house candidates – is the most qualified to deal with a secondary that has to be the youngest and most inexperienced group on the team.

Okay, this is actually working. I’ve convinced myself that I actually like a coach who insisted on consistently rushing only three in 3rd-and-long situations last year – WAIT NO SHUT THE HELL UP!

2.  A dirty not-so-secret about Butch Davis. No, this has nothing to do with the NCAA troubles. Any Cleveland Browns or Carolina fan will tell you that Davis is simply not a very good in-game coach. He rarely made halftime adjustments (at least, adjustments that were noticeable), had generally poor and sometimes horrendous clock management, and at times dialed up play calling that was questionable at best and straight-up stupid at worst.

I'm sad too, Butch. I'm sad too.

The knock on Davis is that he isn’t a big X’s-and-O’s guy, and that he lacks a “feel of the game,” whatever that is.. But how is this any of this a positive for UNC? More important than Davis’ in-game acumen was his unquestioned talent on the recruiting pitch. Davis brought speed, talent, athleticism, and pure ability to Chapel Hill, and had a knack for doing it. The silver lining for Carolina, though he’s gone, is that his recruits are still here. For all the shit they went through last year, this is still a Butch Davis team. And that’s a pretty scary animal for the rest of the ACC. Which leads me to point #3…

3. Carolina has maybe the best “NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!!!” play in recent memory. As a thought experiment, consider an alternate universe where Davis is still the head coach. What’s different from right now, besides an extraordinarily fractured and pissed-off fan base? Mostly nothing, to be honest with you. The talent is still there – Bryn Renner is totally green at quarterback, but that’s a subject for the media guide posts – and now-exonerated Carolina players are furious at having been held out of crucial games last year. They already would have had a chip on their shoulder, but probably would have been ranked in the top 25 anyway (this is obviously debatable).

Back in the real world, this same group of players – same talent level, same level of experience, same ginormous offensive line – now has a raison d’etre – the Nobody Believes In Us Card (see every Bill Simmons article written ever) that often comes from being unranked. If Withers has even an ounce of motivational speaking in him, here’s betting he can catch this spark and leverage top-25 talent with a bone to pick.

Never, ever underestimate the power of a legitimate Nobody Believes In Us card. There’s a reason every team, even the Auburns and Oregons and Floridas, tries to pull the tactic off. It works. Such is the power of the NBIU Card that the Seattle Seahawks, the shittiest team to ever back in to the NFL playoffs, used it to score 41 points to beat Super Bowl favorites New Orleans.

4. Players, staff, and fans all know this is probably the last chance to succeed before the wheels fall off. The Carolina football staff is not naïve. They know that UNC is likely to receive some pretty serious penalties from the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing in October, despite the absolute joke the NCAA has become. A postseason ban is not out of the question, and a reduction in scholarships is a near-certainty.

Carolina will also be dealing with a coaching search (even if Withers succeeds, the athletic department will likely do a full evaluation at the end of the season) AND an athletic director search after Dick Baddour resigned in protest over Davis’ firing. That coaching uncertainty plus the NCAA penalties spells a looming recruiting disaster. A few recruits have jumped ship already (though it’s worth noting some have stuck to their commitments), and the number is likely to snowball as the season rolls on. Withers has a hugely difficult task in front of him as he tries to recruit with the interim label.

So what all this means: this is the last hurrah for a good long while. Cue Coach Herman Boone, cue Al Pacino against the Knights, cue Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights. So play with your hearts on the line, men, because we crawl for that inch!

Hmmm… combine the NOBODY BELIEVES IN US card with the THERE IS NO TOMORROW FOR YOU card from The Replacements, and I might actually have something here…

5. Withers kind of looks like Ray Rice, whom I love. Okay I know I’m reaching, BUT CUT ME SOME SLACK HERE. As a blatant homer for UNC, I have to believe this season has at least a kernel of success hidden in it somewhere, right?! Right?

Are you ready for some football?

About Nate

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. I've written about the UNC-Duke rivalry since my best friend from high school took his talents to Durham the same year I went to Carolina. Astoundingly, we remain friends in part due to a moratorium on talking around Duke-Carolina games. Though capable of rationally approaching the rivalry, I generally prefer low-intellect vitriol, because it makes me feel better about myself. Visit my blog at http://thebestmedicineis.wordpress.com
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9 Responses to Blatant Homerism: UNC Football Might Actually Be…Good?

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  1. William says:

    I’m ready for some football.

  2. Nate, the thing I’d like to talk about is the 3rd-down passivity on defense. I think I went to four Carolina games last year, and it completely KILLED me that they’d continually get these teams in 3rd-and-long with aggressive defense, and all the sudden they’d pull back in this 3-front D and just let teams pick them apart. I remember it being a particular problem against Virginia Tech, a game where the final score doesn’t indicate how close it was, and also N.C. State.

    It reminded me of Duke during the miserable ’01-’05 era when I was there, except for them it was on offense. Every time they had third and long, without fail, they’d run a screen pass. Comical.

    Anyway, is the defense going to change this season? Also, on a side note, you’re right about Davis’ game-calling. What was lost in the Tennessee win last year was how awful he was at the end of the game. I think he cost them the Georgia Tech game that way as well.

    1. William says:

      On a similar note, the decision to rush 3 and drop back into prevent defense at the end of close games kills me. The biggest strength on the team was the D-Line and Linebackers and we decide to put in more defensive backs and just sit back and wait for a good QB to pick us apart.

      I’m not the smartest defensive mind out there (In NCAA football I blitz every. single. play.) But why deviate from what has worked the entire game? And once it’s clear the sudden change isn’t working, why keep doing it?

      1. Agreed with both of you. It’s tough to point out good reasons why the gameplan was drawn up the way it was, but at least it’ll be interesting to see if Withers tweaks late-game management from last year’s iteration.

        I don’t even want to talk about the Tenn game last year – Carolina shouldn’t have won it at all, and only by a fluke gap in the rule book did our end-of-game shenanigans end the way they did. It was nice, though, seeing Tyler Bray cry like a bitch after the stunts he pulled during the game.

  3. TarHeelAlex says:

    I’ll make a longer post maybe later if I have time and remember, but I have been expecting a good season for a while now. The talent is loaded (I mean look at that front 7 on D!). There is a stable, solid and enormous offensive line. And the schedule is easy. As I have it today:
    JMU-W
    Rutgers-W
    Virginia-W
    @GT-W (GT is gonna suck)
    @ECU-W
    Louisville-W
    Miami-Depends on Miami’s roster, but I think W
    @Clemson-Iffy. Is Clemson tanking as usual? Let’s go with L though.
    Wake-W
    @State-This is the year I hope.
    @VT- Nope
    Duke-W

    So that is baseline of eight wins, and could go all the way to 11-1. To be honest of the Iffy’s I will take wins over the U & State and loss to Clemson. So my prediction s 10-2. That should be #3 in the ACC, miss the title game, and head to Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl.

    1. The first 3 games are definitely a boon. Only a miracle would keep Carolina from 3-0. I think 8-4 would be my guess, though. I expect they’ll drop one they shouldn’t along the way.

    2. Yeah, I agree on optimistic principles with the 8-win baseline, but it really is up in the air just how well this Carolina team can live up to its talent. I suppose that was the whole point of my article – it really could go either way.

  4. Rock Hard says:

    The black Carl Torbush will get the job because we can’t afford to pay Butch his full contract and hire another coach of any recognition and what name coach would want this job now? We have “de-emphasized” football at UNC. So that means after this season expect another lost decade. Thank you Holden Thorp, DICK!

  5. DWright says:

    I’m extremely cautious in thinking this outloud, but I think we could be very good this year…..like 10-2 good….but as a Carolina football fan, I’ve been checking my hair for that damn tick because I KNOW he’s waiting for the next potential breakout year for UNC to crush us, once again

    Regardless, I can’t freaking wait for the season to start

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