Tar Heels in midst of improbable run

It’s come to this: North Carolina walk-on running back Steven Hatley, who had never played in a game before and never even practicedwith the Tar Heels’ kickoff coverage team, was volunteering to do both against Florida State because UNC ran out of special teams players.

The totals are staggering -- 19 players on defense, including seven starters (the entire secondary) and 14 total from the preseason depth chart; 12 players on offense, including five starters, all three tailbacks from the preseason depth chart and both fullbacks.

The amount of tackles, interceptions, rushing and receiving yards North Carolina has missed out on because of the 31 players who have missed at least one game because of injuries and the ongoing NCAA investigations is incomprehensible.

So is the fact that North Carolina (6-3) is still winning.

And yet here they are, bowl-eligible and in contention to win the Coastal Division heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. UNC’s upset of Florida State this past weekend -- on the road no less -- was the program’s first win against Florida State in Tallahassee and just the second win all-time in the series. Carolina is now bowl-eligible for the third straight season. That's the longest such run since going to eight straight bowls from 1991 through 1998.

Six wins were inconceivable a week before the season opening kickoff against LSU, when the NCAA investigation derailed the careers of 13 players.

That, of course, was just the beginning.

There have been more reasons to count Carolina out this season than there are barbecue joints on Tobacco Road. Against Virginia last month, walk-on offensive guard Peyton Jenest lined up at defensive tackle for the Heels. At FSU, North Carolina literally had three healthy corners who could play. The Tar Heels were down to four defensive ends and two of them got hurt. Running back Hunter Furr, who was on the scout team a week ago, was suddenly instrumental in the game-winning drive. If starter Shaun Draughn (ankle) can practice this week, he’ll obviously play, but if not, it’s up to Furr and -- well, Hatley.

Doesn’t matter. Hasn’t yet.

With quarterback T.J. Yates rising to the occasion every week and receiver Dwight Jones racking up three 100-yard games in the past four weeks, North Carolina has a chance to upset Virginia Tech on Saturday.

What are the odds?

Probably as good as a walk-on seeing his first playing time.

For all of the reasons to doubt UNC before this season even started, the Tar Heels now have six good reasons not to.