It's hard to believe, but the 2023 season opener is just a week away, as the Tar Heels are set to take on South Carolina next Saturday night in Charlotte. With a lot of expectations for the program this season, let's take a look at the biggest questions this team must find answers to, to avoid a letdown season like 2021:
1. Who Do the Heels Turn to at Receiver Without Tez Walker?
Some of the more disappointing news to come out of the program during fall camp was the denial of Tez Walker’s transfer waiver. While this is disappointing for a number of reasons, we will focus on the impact on the UNC receiver room. Tez Walker was expected to be a deep threat this year, almost like Antione Greene was for UNC last year. Without him, UNC will have to turn to some less experienced, but still quite talented, options. Number one on that list will have to be JJ Jones. Jones is a long, athletic receiver who will have to be able to stretch the defense with no Tez Walker. Another option could be Andre Green Jr. but after he struggled in spring practice, he would be the wild card. The main thing this will do is put more pressure on guys like Kobe Paysour and Nate McCollum to produce and get open for their quarterback.
2. Can the D-Line Finally Live Up to its Talent?
Mack Brown has been recruiting quite well on the defensive line, bringing in highly touted guys out of high school such as Des Evans, Myles Murphy, and more recently, Travis Shaw. Des Evans has battled injuries and the depth chart, Myles Murphy has struggled to live up to his potential, and Travis Shaw barely saw the field as a freshman. Now, in the case of Shaw, he still has plenty of time to develop and grow. But for Evans and Murphy, time is running short. There is potential to be an elite d-line, especially with guys like Kamon Rucker coming off the edge. But guys like Murphy and Evans must produce for this unit to go anywhere, and until they do, the d-line will never live up to its full potential.
3. Is the Secondary Going to be Any Better?
The secondary has been completely overhauled over the offseason. Gone are Storm Duck, Tony Grimes, and Cam’Ron Kelly. Entering in their place is Alijah Huzzie, who was first-team all FCS last year at East Tennessee State, Armani Chatman, and Antavious Lane. They join several promising young returnees in Marcus Allen, Lejond Cavasos, who did sustain a lower-body injury in camp, and Will Hardy plus a few older statesmen in Giovanni Biggers and Don Chapman. They also have a new secondary Coach Jason Jones but will they improve? The talent is there, but much like the D-line, it's going to come down to guys living up to their potential. Huzzie and Allen appear to be the starters at corner with Cavasos getting injured. I do believe this unit will improve, but how much is really a hard question to answer.
4. Who is The Top Dog in the RB Room?
Elijah Green as of now, but he will likely have to fight to keep it. Omarion Hampton has the highest potential of the group, but there is also British Brooks, who didn’t play last year due to injury, returning. Also returning is the often-injured Caleb Hood, along with George Petteway. All these backs have experience, and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey wants to run the ball more. But getting a definite rotation will be key for this group going forward. Green was the top RB late last year which gives you reason to believe that as long as he’s healthy he will be the top dog, but Hampton and Brooks will push him as the season nears. Hood is the wild card, he’s a home run hitter who, if he could stay healthy, has the potential to be the best RB in this room. But staying healthy has been his issue, he didn’t play in the last 6 games last season. But don’t be surprised if any of these guys trot out onto the field come September 2nd in Charlotte.
5. What is The Ceiling for This Team?
Most people write off this question, saying that the Heels will just finish behind Clemson and Florida State and move on. But if you take a little bit of a deeper dive, you see that there is a path to the ACC title game for UNC. We will really know how good this team is when they face Pitt on the road on September 23rd. That’ll be the test. Win that, and there is a possibility that this team is 10-0 when they visit Death Valley to play Clemson on November 18th. Simply put, this team's ceiling could be as high as the ACC championship and playoff contention. But the defense must improve and someone will have to step up at receiver for anything close to that to happen.
UNC opens up the season on September 2nd in Charlotte against South Carolina at 7:30 PM on ABC. We will continue to cover the UNC football team throughout the season as it continues