Midseason report: North Carolina

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


OVERVIEW: If you recall the preseason hype, the Tar Heels are right where everyone expected them to be -- in the hunt and in second place behind the Hokies. What nobody expected was for them to play so well despite losing their starting quarterback. UNC has won with defense, special teams, coaching, and its ability to create turnovers. The loss to Virginia Tech will haunt them all season, but the win over Notre Dame validated their place in the national rankings.

OFFENSIVE MVP: Receiver/returner Brandon Tate. Before suffering his season-ending knee injuries, Tate was the Tar Heels' third-leading rusher, their second-leading receiver, and their top return man. He was one of the most exciting players in the ACC and ranked 13th in the nation with 163.7 all-purpose yards per game, fifth in punt returns (22.6) and 18th in kickoff returns (27.7)

DEFENSIVE MVP: Safety Trimane Goddard. He has four picks through the first five games of the season, and is tied for the national lead with 0.67 per game. His interception in the end zone on the final play of the game at Miami preserved Carolina's 28-24 win. He also has three pass breakups this season and one forced fumble.

WHAT'S NEXT: Life without Tate begins. Cooter Arnold saw his most significant playing time against Notre Dame after Tate left, but it's going to take more than just Arnold to fill that void. The coaching staff will also have to figure out what to do once quarterback T.J. Yates is cleared to play. Do they go back to the old lineup, or reward Cam Sexton? First, they have to get past Virginia, which is suddenly a more interesting road game.