By Ashtin Marlow,
The Tar Heel football season gets underway on Saturday night in Kenan Stadium, as the program looks to bounce back from last year's disappointing campaign. To do that, they'll need to answer there questions during the season:
1. Who starts at quarterback?
UNC has two frontrunners for the Quarterback job coming into the year. Drake Maye
has been named the starter for the Florida A&M game, however, Jacolby Criswell will play
according to Mack Brown at some point in the game. When he plays and how well he plays
against the FCS school will likely determine who will be the starter moving forward. Maye
played in only two games last year but was solid going 7-for-10 for 89 yards. Criswell on the
other hand played in three games and threw for 179 yards on 13 completions with 21 attempts.
Criswell also has more experience in the system and has been with the Heels since 2020. Maye, however, was the higher touted player out of high school. Mack Brown could alternate them even beyond the Florida A&M game if no clear starter emerges.
2. Is there a lead dog in the running game?
Not as of now. The Tar Heel running back room is six deep and talented with several
former four-star recruits in the program. However, only three will make the rotation, and,
barring injury, the three leaders so far are D.J. Jones (60 attempts, 253 yards, 4.2 yards per
carry) freshman George Pettaway, and perhaps Caleb Hood, (22 attempts, 97 yards, 4.4 yards
per carry.) These three are not the only ones who could see significant carries as Omarion
Hampton is another talented four-star prospect. So for now, there is no lead dog in the running game, UNC will be taking a committee approach this year.
3. Can the offensive line protect the passer?
Good question, and probably one that will be answered fairly quickly as game two on
the schedule is Appalachian State, a team with several solid pass rushers. This O-line gave up 49 sacks last year. That is way too high. In comparison, the Browns were the sixth most sacked team in the pros last year, giving up 49 sacks. They played four more games than the Tar Heels last year. That is not the kind of stat you like to see. The UNC offensive line will replace three starters from last year's offensive line this season.
4. Can the defense play to their lofty potential?
Another great question, another tricky answer. This defense was supposed to be one of
the better units in the ACC but instead was among the worst. Get this. 12 th in points per game allowed 10 th in rushing yards per game allowed, and 11 th in total yards per game allowed. This is a talented unit loaded with former four and five-star recruits. Not to mention Gene Chizik is back as the defensive coordinator and promises to focus on forcing more turnovers. So can this unit improve? Certainly. Will they play to potential? That’s a question that can only be answered in time.
5. Is this a team that can win eight or nine games?
Can they? Yes. Will they? Great question. The Tar Heels underachieved big time last year
as the O-line failed to protect Sam Howell and the Defense could not stop anybody. Have they learned their lesson? Maybe. The Heels need to identify a starting QB to get anywhere, and then that QB needs to play well. If they do that, this offense has the tools to score points, but the defense must help. A reasonable goal would be a seven win season. Anything beyond that would most definitely be considered a success.