Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
As if doubling the win total from four to eight wasn't difficult enough, UNC coach Butch Davis has to now find a way to take the next step, and conquer a nine- or 10-win season.
Considering the Tar Heels return more starters (16) than they've lost (8), it's not an unreasonable goal, but UNC must keep pace in the Coastal with the quick improvement of both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. One thing this year's group has going in its favor is the intangible taste of near victory. Now they know what it feels like to lose a bowl game 31-30, and to Maryland 17-15, to Virginia 16-13 in overtime, and to Virginia Tech 20-17. If UNC keeps it together for four quarters this fall -- and stays healthy -- the results will be different.
T.J. Yates is an experienced quarterback, and the defense will be loaded. Davis hired three new assistant coaches, but the coordinators remain the same, and it's already been a seamless transition. There's really no reason why UNC shouldn't start the season 3-0 and have some momentum heading into a critical Coastal Division game at Georgia Tech. And three straight October home games will help build some confidence before a daunting road trip to Blacksburg. No doubt it's a favorable schedule, but there are plenty of issues that still need to be addressed.
1. Who is going to catch the ball? Not even Davis knows the answer to this one, and he might not find out until a few games into the season. Carolina lost six receivers from a year ago, including NFL draft picks Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster. In all, UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. There are high hopes for freshman Joshua Adams, who enrolled in January and has drawn praise from his teammates and coaches. Greg Little is the most experienced of the group, but it's wide open.
2. How quickly can the new-look offensive line come together? UNC has to replace three-year starters Garrett Reynolds, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, and Calvin Darity. Three-year starting left tackle Kyle Jolly is an all-conference candidate, and Lowell Dyer returns at center, but the other three positions are unsettled. If UNC's running game is going to improve -- and there is definitely room for improvement -- it's got to start up front.
3. Can Da'Norris Searcy replace Trimane Goddard at safety? It's practically the lone question for this defense, and the answer is yes. Goddard led the nation with seven interceptions last year, and he will be missed, but Searcy showed what he is capable of in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, when he made 10 of his 25 tackles. He was also used as a sixth defensive back against Notre Dame and had an important pass breakup on the Irish's final offensive possession. After spending most of the season on special teams and as a reserve safety, much more will be expected of him in '09.