Midseason report: North Carolina


Record: 5-2, 2-1 ACC

The best team in the Coastal Division just might be the ineligible one.

Despite a first-year coach in Larry Fedora, entirely new offensive and defensive schemes, and an NCAA-imposed postseason ban, the Tar Heels have been one of the ACC’s most complete teams in the first half of the season. Carolina is third in the league in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. The offensive line has been outstanding, and paved the way for another jaw-dropping season by running back Giovani Bernard. The defense has made significant strides, and the coaching staff has done a tremendous job of getting the players to buy in quickly, forget the past, and relish their role of spoiler.

North Carolina began the season in a 1-2 rut, but has since rebounded to win four straight heading into Saturday’s game against Duke. The turning point was the second half of a 39-34 loss to Louisville in which the Tar Heels almost overcame a 36-7 halftime deficit. UNC carried that momentum right into mid-October and hasn’t looked back since.

UNC’s transition to the “Fed Spread” has worked well for quarterback Bryn Renner & Co. As promised, it has been a balanced attack. Carolina is averaging more than 250 yards passing (276.0) and 200 yards rushing (210.6). UNC is one of only nine FBS schools and one of just three ACC schools (FSU, Clemson) averaging at least 250 passing and 200 rushing.

Fedora got his players to believe that there is more to play for than the postseason.

Offensive MVP: RB Giovani Bernard. The Tar Heels are 5-0 with Bernard in the lineup. He needs 95 rushing yards to reach 2,000 for his career. He has gained 439 rushing yards in the last two weeks in wins over Virginia Tech (262) and Miami (177). Bernard is averaging 130.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the country. Despite playing in just five games, Bernard ranks second in the ACC with 10 touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: DT Sylvester Williams: Williams leads the team and is third in the league with 5.0 sacks. He had three tackles, a tackle for loss and assisted on a sack in UNC’s 48-34 win over Virginia Tech. He has eight tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries.