North Carolina Tar Heels — 2020 Syracuse Football preview

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Syracuse's defense stops North Carolina in the first half. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will begin its 2020 regular season schedule on September 12 against UNC.

BROWN’S BACK AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

Though Larry Fedora led North Carolina to a dream 2015 season in which they went 11-3 (8-0, ACC) and finished 15th in both the coaches and AP polls, he suffered a steep decline in the following seasons. North Carolina went a combined 5-18 in the 2017 and 18 seasons, which led to his dismissal and the re-hiring of former head coach Mack Brown.

The long-time Texas coach, who also was the head coach at UNC from 1988 to 1997, quickly turned around the Tar Heels, going 7-6 in his return season with a win over Temple in the Military Bowl. What’s even more encouraging is that UNC could’ve finished with an even better record.

All of its six losses came by seven points or less, and the Tar Heels finished the season on a three-game winning streak, averaging 50.6 points during that stretch. Recruits have noticed the revival at Chapel Hill, with Brown hauling in the No. 13 class in 2020 according to 247 Sports.

 

POTENT OFFENSIVE ATTACK

Brown will look to build on the last three games of 2019, with 10 starters returning from an Air Raid offense that averaged 474.0 yards per game (second in the ACC).

It starts with quarterback Sam Howell, who finished with 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns in his standout freshman season where he was named ACC Rookie of the Year. He’ll hand off to a pair of potential 1,000 yard rushers in Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Carter rushed for 1,003 yards and three touchdowns, while Williams finished with 933 yards and five scores.

Howell’s two favorite passing targets, Dyami Brown (1,034 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Dazz Newsome (1,018, 10), are back as well. The offensive line also remains mostly intact, only with the loss of left tackle Charlie Heck (now with the NFL’s Houston Texans).

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers

EXPERIENCED DEFENSE

Chazz Surratt was UNC’s quarterback in 2017, but transitioned into one of the ACC”s top linebackers in 2019. He finished with 115 tackles and 6.5 sacks and was named to the All-ACC First Team as a junior.

He’s joined by redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Gemmel, who started at inside linebacker for all 13 games and recorded 84 tackles (2nd on the team, 17th in the ACC). UNC is a little thinner at their defensive line with some graduations, but senior defensive end Tomon Fox (6.5 sacks) will be a steadying presence.

In the secondary, the Tar Heels get back Patrice Rene after a torn ACL early in 2019, and they also return starters Trey Morrison, Storm Duck and D.J. Ford.

CAN UNC CHALLENGE CLEMSON?

With the Coastal and Atlantic divisions abolished in 2020 due to COVID-19 realignment, Clemson is still a favorite to win the ACC. But there is a large group of teams that could finish right behind the Tigers, and North Carolina is certainly a candidate.

With experience on both sides of the ball and an offense that will challenge Clemson for supremacy, there’s no reason to think that North Carolina won’t be playing in the ACC Championship game in 2020.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2597 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.