North Carolina Tar Heels — 2018 Syracuse Football preview

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Moe Neal breaks free for a run against Wake Forest. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2018 ACC schedule when it plays the UNC Tar Heels on Oct. 20.

BOUNCE BACK YEAR?: North Carolina had its worst season since 2006, with the Tar Heels limping to a three-win season after a rash of injuries and an identity crisis at quarterback. To get back to the post season, head coach Larry Fedora is going to need to rely on a talented core of skill players, a revamped offensive line and hope for an improved defense that struggled to contain the run last year. Though UNC should look better on the field this season (it’s hard to look worse after last year) the schedule is daunting. On top of the usual vigorous ACC schedule, the Tar Heels also have a tough non-conference slate that includes the season opener at Cal and then a home game against UCF, who went undefeated in 2017.

» Related: Pitt Panthers — 2018 Syracuse Football preview

WHO TO WATCH FOR: One of the biggest questions heading into camp will be who starts at quarterback between Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott. Surratt started the first six games and threw for 1167 yards and six touchdowns, but the Tar Heels only had one win to show for it, and it was against FCS Old Dominion. Elliott finished the season and while he wasn’t the flashy dual-threat quarterback that Surratt was, the Heels won two of its last three games, including a three-point win over Pitt. Whoever starts will be throwing a good amount to receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who emerged as one of the team’s best receivers last season. He finished with 630 yards and six touchdowns, including three touchdowns in the final three games of the season with an average of nearly 100 yards during that time. Returning running backs Jordon Brown and Michael Carter combined for nearly 1,200 yards on the ground and six touchdowns, but the main issues will be on the O-line, where the Tar Heels will need to work in three new starters.

PREDICTION: North Carolina gave up more than 30 points a game last season, and finished dead last in the ACC for the fifth straight year in run defense. UNC returns depth at the D-line position, but has plenty of voids to fill in the linebacker core and secondary. With games against ECU and Western Carolina on the schedule, North Carolina needs to only win one more from that group to tie the win total from last year. But a tougher schedule means the wins might not come as easily. SYRACUSE 34, UNC 24.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2352 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.