Of the four new head coaches in the ACC this season, North Carolina’s Mack Brown comes in with the most name recognition.
With Vince Young under center in 2005, Brown led Texas to the national championship. He has always been known as one of the nation’s top recruiters, and that has continued at North Carolina. He already flipped a high-end quarterback prospect from a rival ACC program, and UNC’s 2019 class ranks No. 32 nationally, according to 247Sports.
Our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview series continues with a home game on Nov. 2 against the Tar Heels, who have three freshmen competing to start at quarterback and might soon be one of the ACC’s fastest-rising programs.
Which QB will start?
The first thing Brown did when he got the job was flip in-state quarterback Sam Howell from Florida State. He was a consensus four-star prospect and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country after finishing his career at Sun Valley High School with 13,145 passing yards and 145 touchdowns through the air and 3,261 yards and 60 touchdowns on the ground. Howell seems like the favorite to win the job, but Brown has left open the option of going with a two-quarterback system.
Redshirt freshmen Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder also are in the running. Ruder (6-3, 225) is the biggest and most athletic of the three, and he led the Tar Heels to 10 straight points against Georgia Tech in his only action of last season.
Fortin has the best arm, and he led three scoring drives before he was injured in a start against Virginia Tech. He returned for the final game of the season against N.C. State and went 19-for-40 for 276 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
No shortage of options
Whoever does take the snaps is going to have plenty of playmakers around them.
In the backfield, last season’s top three rushers are all back. Junior Michael Carter is the fastest of the bunch and put up 597 yards and two touchdowns in nine games a year ago. Antonio Williams was once an Ohio State Buckeye, and he was the featured back for much of last season.
He’s a load in short-yardage situations, and he posted 504 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last fall.
Sophomore Javonte Williams has been described as the most complete back on the roster after posting 176 rushing yards and four touchdowns in last season’s final two games.
At wide receiver, Dazz Newsome is one of the most explosive players in the ACC, and he’s also a threat in the return game.
Six-foot-4 Beau Corrales should see an expanded role. Dynami Brown was one of the most highly touted members of the 2018 class, and he appeared in 10 games last season and caught 17 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Brown and fellow sophomore Antoine Green are both deep threats, and Brown’s younger brother, Khafre, was ranked in the top 300 nationally in the 2019 class and may contribute as a true freshman. Junior Rontavius Groves averaged more than 18 yards per catch last fall, and tight end Carl Tucker is back after finishing last season third on the team with 265 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
For the most part last season, North Carolina’s defense was atrocious, and it may not be much better this year. But the Tar Heels return three starters on the defensive line, led by 285-pound senior Jason Strowbridge. He can play tackle or end and finished last season with 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He and 310-pound senior Aaron Crawford form one of the ACC’s top interior duos, and pass-rushing defensive end Tomon Fox also is back. Virginia’s offensive line returns plenty of experience but is still a question mark. It’s going to have its work cut out for it in this one.
Virginia trails North Carolina in the all-time series 56-63-4. The Tar Heels won seven straight meetings between 2010-16, but the Cavaliers have won the past two.
North Carolina’s offense didn’t struggle to move the ball last season. The Tar Heels ranked 5th in the ACC with 442.1 yards per game and 6th with 193 rushing yards a game. The problem was they couldn’t score and they couldn’t stop anyone. In 11 games, they scored 21 points or fewer five times, and the defense gave up 33 points or more seven times. Virginia will be heavily favored and the Tar Heels are going to be susceptible on defense again, but with Brown’s success on the recruiting trail, the Cavaliers better take advantage of that vulnerability now. It may not be long before UNC is back near the top of the Coastal Division standings.