2022 North Carolina Tar Heels Preview

by Matt Fargo

North Carolina Tar Heels

2021-22 Season Record 6-7 (3-5 ACC Central) - 5-8-0 ATS - 7-6-0 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 5
Defense - 8

Overview

Three straight bowl games, including an Orange Bowl, would be the envy of many teams and that is what North Carolina has accomplished the last three seasons but it was way below what was expected. The Tar Heels were loaded with at least 16 starters back but something bad went wrong each year that was inexplicable and the underachieving settled in. It is not back to the drawing board for head coach Mack Brown as he has a very good team but nothing special although this is when teams can perform their best with less pressure. This is his fourth season in his second go-around with the program after closing out his first run going 54-18 from 1992-1997 and they hope those glory days can return after posting just one double-digit win season since 1998. 13 starters are back and the returning production ranking is No. 75 but a third straight top 15 recruiting class spikes optimism.

Offense

Offense was not the issue among many bad things that led to a disappointing season as the Tar Heels were No. 9 in total offense and No. 17 in scoring offense but they could not do enough at the times when the defense fell off. Quarterback Sam Howell had a very good season but after two exceptional campaigns, it was not good enough as he ran more than he should have which limited his passing. Three players will be competing to take over as Jacolby Criswell, Drake Maye, and Conner Harrell all have something to bring but nothing to stand out to make each a true No. 1. The running game was great with Howell and leading rusher Ty Chandler but their 1,920 yards will be tough to replace. The offensive line has to replace four starters although there is good experience. Wide receiver Josh Downs caught 101 passes for 1,125 yards and he absolutely needs to get the ball again. 

Defense

10 starters were back from a defense that was average in 2020, ranked No. 56 overall but great things were expected and it bottomed out, allowing 34 or more points in 8 of their last 11 games and finishing No. 87 in total defense and No. 101 in scoring defense. The good news is that eight starters are back with great experience but last year has to be let go. The strength should in the secondary with all four players possessing talent, experience and room for growth and good depth behind them. The linebackers are led by Cedric Gray who was the top tackler last season with 96 and will again be the core with solid talent around him. The defensive line did not do enough to cause disruption and the likely absence of Tomari Fox is huge as he has been suspended for the season barring a late miracle. The exterior on the line now has to find someone at least half as good.

2022 Season Outlook

Brown knows how to win but he has always been scrutinized for having great teams that have underperformed and looking at this program, that can be said for 2019, 2020 and 2021. He can coach these kids up and as long as the offense can maintain some sort of consistency and be able to put up points, the defense will eventually take over with the hire of Gene Chizik overlooking the unit. A good season is still expected but a great one is also possible if it can all come together. They open at home against Florida A&M and will be tested at Appalachian St. the following week before another easy game and then Notre Dame comes to town. Of the four ACC road games, Miami and Wake Forest will be tough while Pittsburgh and NC State are the tough home games. And yes, no Clemson. The O/U win total is set at 7.5 which is about right so this looks to be a pass either way. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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