Updated: Jan 5, 2020
As we get closer to the 2019 season, we continue to get you ready with the Heel Tough Blog’s preseason articles. Here are the Heel Tough Blog’s bold predictions for the 2019 Tar Heel football season.
Sam Howell Will Start The Entire Season
We come out of the gate hot with maybe our most controversial take. The quarterback battle is far from over, as three quarterbacks enter the fall without any separation, but these are the bold takes where we take some risks. Howell has the most pure talent of the three quarterbacks and, despite some concerns early in the spring about his grasp of the playbook, put together a fantastic performance in the Tar Heel spring game back in April. My belief is that if Howell gets the job at any point during the 2019 season, he will not relinquish it. With what he has shown so far and the fact that none of the two redshirt freshmen have been able to establish any separation, it’s not crazy to think that Howell could be the Tar Heels one and only starting quarterback during the 2019 season.
Jeremiah Gemmel Leads the Team in Tackles
With Cole Holcomb gone, the Tar Heels are needing to find that new volume tackler and Gemmel has shown all the signs necessary to being that guy. Many may say, what about Dominique Ross? Ross is expected to play what they call the SAM linebacker spot in Jay Bateman’s system, which is more of a run-stopping outside linebacker. While that sets up to put him near the top in tackles, your goal as a defense is usually always to protect the edge and funnel everything back towards the middle of the field where the most bodies are. The Tar Heel defensive line has the players capable of doing just that, meaning that the inside linebackers will benefit the most from this. Gemmel has played the part well in back-to-back spring camps and with it looking more and more like he will start at one of the inside linebacker spots, it sets up nicely for this bold prediction to come true.
Michael Carter, Antonio Williams and Javonte Williams All Run For More Than 400 Yards
Last year, one of our bold predictions was that Michael Carter would become the first running back since Giovani Bernard to rush for 1,000 yards in a season for the Tar Heels. While Carter did finish with an impressive 7.1 yards per carry, injuries and depth in the backfield prevented him from reaching that mark. With both Antonio Williams and Javonte Williams returning alongside Carter, it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels will not rotated the three as they did for much of the latter part of the season in 2018. The Tar Heels new high powered offense will run somewhere around 85-90 plays per game, meaning there should be plenty of rotation at the running back position once again. The Tar Heels have not had three running backs rush for over 400 yards in a season since 2004, but with the talent in the backfield and the starting quarterback being a freshman, there is a possibility for all three to reach that mark.
Charlie Heck Wins the Jacobs’ Blocking Trophy
When the ACC released their preseason team on Tuesday afternoon, it was shocking to not see Charlie Heck’s name at one of the offensive tackle positions. Heck was the anchor for an offensive line that finished 7th in the nation in sacks allowed with just 10.0 in 11 games and graded out at an 82 or above in seven of the Tar Heels nine games where the staff graded offensive line play. Heck is down to 305 lbs. which allow him to move at the level he needs to as he kicks over to blindside tackle and the new offense will thrive when the quarterback can get the ball out quickly, which should happen as the season progresses. Heck paved the way for a running game that averaged 193.0 yards per game a year ago in an offense that refused to lean heavily on the run game, even when it was clearly the strength of the offense, as it was the last two seasons. A better offense will allow Heck to receive more recognition and with the ACC offensive line unit not having the same type of superstars that it has in the past, Heck has a chance to be the first Tar Heel since Jonathan Cooper to bring home the award.
Tar Heels Pull One Major Upset
For this prediction, the focus is mainly on the Clemson, Virginia and Virginia Tech games. Clemson seems like a reach, but we like the fact that the game is in Kenan and where it is on the schedule. That being said, we don’t see this one happening. Virginia Tech is a team trending in the wrong direction, so much so that Justin Fuente is somehow on the hot seat. Bud Foster’s defense should return to form in 2019 after a down year a year ago, though, and there is enough talent in Blacksburg to make them one of the favorites in the ACC Coastal race once again. With the game being in Lane Stadium, a place that has not been historically kind to the Tar Heels, it’s tough to go with this one as the upset. That leaves the Virginia game and this is the game where we think the Tar Heels pull their biggest upset. The South’s Oldest Rivalry has not gone the way of the Tar Heels in each of the past two seasons, but even with the teams struggles, both games have still been relatively close. Prior to 2017, the Heels won seven straight meetings between the two, the program’s second-longest streak in the series’ history. The game will be played on November 2nd in the midst of a stretch where the Cavaliers will play four straight teams that will likely be fighting to get to a bowl game and with how late in the season this matchup will be, the Tar Heels have time to gain some momentum. The game is in Kenan and will be the second game of a two week road trip for Virginia. The schedule sets up for Virginia to be 5-2, possibly 6-1 if everything goes right, so they could be in the market for a trap game by this point, especially if they are in first place in the Coastal at the time. This would be a big boost for a Tar Heel team looking to gain momentum for the 2020 season.