North Carolina is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2021 season that could have turned out so much better. Five of the six losses during the regular season were by 10 points or less.
North Carolina was 11th in the ACC in total defense and 12th in scoring defense so that will need to change. The offense could take a step back with quarterback Sam Howell and running back Ty Chandler both in the NFL.
The loss of 15 outgoing transfers is not ideal. Just four transfers were brought in so coach Mack Brown is trusting in his staff’s ability to recruit and develop the players necessary to make a run at a division title.
North Carolina (+2000) is currently tied for fourth in the odds to win the ACC title according to the college football odds. The Tar Heels (+550) are fourth in the odds to win the ACC Coastal Division.
North Carolina (+15000) is tied for 24th in the NCAA football odds to win the national championship according to the sportsbook.
- 2021 record: 6-7
- 2021 conference record: 3-5
- Head coach: Mack Brown
- Odds to win conference title: +2200
Quarterback Sam Howell and running back Ty Chandler are in the NFL now so some new offensive playmakers will need to emerge. Josh Downs returns after catching 101 passes during the 2021 season. He is showing up on pretty much every preseason All-American list.
— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) July 15, 2022
British Brooks averaged 9.5 yards with four touchdowns on 31 carries a season ago. His role could increase with leading rusher Chandler (1092 rushing yards, 13 TDs) gone. D.J. Jones and Caleb Hood are other returning running backs to keep an eye on.
Howell is gone after starting for the Tar Heels for the last three seasons so he leaves some huge shoes to fill. Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye were 20 of 31 passing during the 2021 season.
Whoever wins the job will be looking for Downs early and often. Antoine Green (612 yards on 31 catches) and tight end Kamari Morales (24 catches, 220 yards in 2021) should also figure prominently into the passing game. Tight end Bryson Nesbit could have a larger role after averaging 22 yards on his seven receptions as a freshman.
The offensive line will need to be rebuilt. Joshua Ezeudu was a third-round pick by the New York Giants in the 2022 NFL Draft. Quiron Johnson, Marcus McKethan, and Jordan Tucker are also gone with Asim Richards the only returning starter on the line. The addition of Miami transfer Corey Gaynor and former Harvard offensive lineman Spencer Rolland should help.
The defense returns 12 of the top 15 tacklers from a season ago. Leading tackler Cedric Gray (100 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions) tops the list of returnees, although there are holes to fill at the other linebacker slots. Tomon Fox (8½ sacks) and second-leading tackler Jeremiah Gemmel are among the key departures.
Defensive linemen Myles Murphy, Raymond Vohasek, Tomari Fox, and Kaimon Rucker all return. The secondary will have plenty of experience with the return of Cam’Ron Kelly (69 tackles, four interceptions), Giovanni Biggers, Tony Grimes (47 tackles, nine pass breakups), Ja’Quirious Conley, and Don Chapman.
The most productive of the defensive players to transfer were cornerback Trey Morrison (47 tackles in 2021) and linebacker Eugene Asante (62 tackles over the last three seasons).
North Carolina did bring in defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan and cornerback Lejond Cavazos from Ohio State as well as linebacker Noah Taylor, who had 69 tackles a season ago. In his time at Virginia, Taylor had 101 22 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three interceptions, and six pass breakups.
Kicker Grayson Atkins needs to be replaced after he was 19 of 23 on field goals last season. Punter Ben Kiernan is back.
Downs was the top punt returner while Conley was the No. 1 kickoff returner for the Tar Heels in 2021.
North Carolina Outlook
Replacing the strong-armed Howell will be no easy task. The good news is that Brown’s staff has been getting the job done on the recruiting trail. In the last three years. North Carolina finished second, third, and second among the ACC recruiting classes. All of that talent could be ready to lead the Tar Heels back to ACC prominence.
North Carolina was 0-4 in true road games last season. The Tar Heels allowed 34.7 points away from home in 2021. That is something that will need to change in 2022.
Expectations are still on the low side when it comes to the college football lines with the odds at -145 for North Carolina to fall under the expected regular-season win total of 7½.
The division title hopes for North Carolina figure to come down to a stretch when they play division favorite Miami, defending ACC and division champion Pittsburgh, and Virginia in a stretch of four games. Two of those contests are on the road. The good news is that a bye week comes before facing Pittsburgh and the other game is against a Duke team expected to finish last in the division.
Something of interest to those who bet online: North Carolina failed to cover in six of the last eight games, although six of those games did go over the total.
After opening up against Florida A&M, a couple of potentially tricky non-conference road games are next. Appalachian State and Georgia State currently have expected win totals of 8½ and 7½ games.
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2022 North Carolina Schedule
- Aug. 27 vs Florida A&M
- Sept. 3 at Appalachian State
- Sept. 10 at Georgia State
- Sept. 24 vs Notre Dame
- Oct. 1 vs Virginia Tech
- Oct. 8 at Miami
- Oct. 15 at Duke
- Oct. 29 vs Pittsburgh
- Nov. 5 at Virginia
- Nov. 12 at Wake Forest
- Nov. 19 vs Georgia Tech
- Nov. 25 vs. North Carolina State