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The Tar Heels hope new uniforms are a symbol that the program is clear of its recent troubles.
Associated Press | File 2011
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner threw for 3,356 yards and 28 TDs as a junior last season.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Some of the older members of the North Carolina fan base haven’t warmed up yet to the idea of the Tar Heels’ black-intensive uniforms, something the team unveiled in the offseason.
But the players lobbied for them, a desire to which second-year coach Larry Fedora was receptive.
“It’s almost like Christmas,” quarterback Bryn Renner said of the new unis. “As far as the old fans getting mad at it, I just think it’s a new age of college football.”
The Tar Heels hope the new duds represent a clean break with the recent troubles in Chapel Hill, a new look for the post-Butch Davis era, one that is finally clear of NCAA sanctions that kept them out of last year’s postseason.
That included last year’s ACC championship game, which North Carolina, at 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the league, would have qualified for if not for the postseason ban. Instead, Georgia Tech represented the Coastal Division and lost to Florida State, a game Renner didn’t watch.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to it,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
Now, the NCAA ugliness appears to be in North Carolina’s rearview mirror, giving the Tar Heels a promising outlook in Fedora’s second season in Chapel Hill.
Star running back Gio Bernard is gone, jumping to the NFL a year early, as are three members of the offensive line who got drafted, including the ACC’s top blocker, Jonathan Cooper.
But the Heels return Renner, who is hoping to build off a junior campaign in which he threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Playing in Fedora’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense for a second season will help, especially if Renner’s performance in UNC’s final four games last year (1,328 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT, 70.7 percent) is any indication.
“He can just play. He doesn’t have to worry,” Fedora said. “I think last year he felt like he had the whole team on his shoulders a lot of times, especially early in the year. And I think that pressure got to him, because he’s a very competitive, very fiery guy.
“I think this year is just going to be a whole lot smoother with him.”
The question is whether the defense can improve enough that North Carolina won’t have to win every game as a shootout.
If one contest typified the Tar Heels’ 2012 season, it was the 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech, a game in which the defense never gave the offense a shot.
“That’s unacceptable no matter who you’re playing,” defensive end Kareem Martin said. “We told ourselves, we can’t have that type of effort if we’re going to be a championship team.”
The defense might have lost standouts like linebacker Kevin Reddick and tackle Sylvester Williams, but Fedora thinks a second season in Vic Koenning and Ron West’s scheme will help.
“They’re not thinking all the time,” Fedora said. “Guys that are thinking about what to do, their feet aren’t moving fast. They don’t look athletic. They don’t even look like good football players. Now, you’re getting to see guys just turn it loose.”
Even a moderate improvement from the defense could be enough for North Carolina to make the next step. Fedora’s specialty is offense, and the Heels ranked second in the ACC in total offense (485.58 ypg) and scoring (40.58 ppg), third in rushing (193.83 ypg) and fourth in passing (291.75 ypg) in his first year with the program.
“They can put up the points,” Martin said. “We just have to stop the teams.”
UNC will find out early what it’s made of. A nationally televised Thursday night game against defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina kicks off the college football season Aug. 29.
Regardless of how that goes, the Heels’ goal is to win the ACC, something they haven’t done since 1980.
“We have talked about how it’s been a long time,” Fedora said. “The guys I’m coaching, none of them were alive in 1980. So they don’t know. They just know that it hasn’t been done. So why not do it?”
At the very least, they’ll be eligible this year.
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