North Carolina is in pursuit of back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins for the first time in nearly two decades. What might prevent the Tar Heels from that mark, really, is hard to figure.
The byproduct of the 2016 coaching carousel is a North Carolina schedule that includes seven teams with new head coaches. Opening weekend offers Georgia and its new leader Kirby Smart. The ensuing weekend is a road trip to Illinois and Lovie Smith, who has never been a college head coach. Even Week 3 opponent James Madison, which won a conference title in the FCS last season, comes with a new coach in Mike Houston (who departed The Citadel, also a team on UNC's schedule).
If they have not already, coaching staffs will spend summer weeks building early game plans for 2016 opponents. But how does a staff prepare for a new coach with new systems and changing personnel with little or no film?
"Exactly," one Power 5 coach said.
That is a predicament North Carolina faces. Larry Fedora will make a habit of introducing himself during pregame conversations as no Power 5 team plays as many Power 5 opponents with new coaches as North Carolina (five). Paul Johnson and Pat Narduzzi ought to consider a name tag, too, as Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh each play four, second most.
All three teams reside in the ACC Coastal Division, which underwent a significant facelift this offseason. Miami (Mark Richt), Virginia (Bronco Mendenhall) and Virginia Tech (Justin Fuente) all made splash hires, igniting discussion whether it was the much-maligned Coastal that experienced college football's best offseason and is orchestrating a top-to-bottom turnaround.
Coaches were unanimous that playing several teams with a new coach is a tough wrinkle to the 2016 season, especially in North Carolina's case. When there is not much current-season film (Illinois' Smith is familiar with preseason games and will treat the mundane Murray State opener before UNC as such), coaches are forced to glean information from the archives. Close the laptop and start splicing old film, because the coaches polled said a staff needs to look at old film from the coordinators' previous stops and match their scheme with the personnel inherited.
"Like Miami for instance, you study Miami's personnel and how they try to attack you," a Power 5 assistant coach said. "Then you go back and see what the coordinator or what Richt did, what his plan of attack is."
The assistant said it's much easier preparing when there's at least three or four game films of the new coach before playing. Their "bread and butter" is usually established by then, he said.
However, even film of prior meetings with some of their personnel still in place isn't nearly as fruitful because there is an unknown as to how the new coach will approach different teams. Over the course of a few meetings, a consistent theme might be established. One coach might routinely call vertical passes annually against Team X and try to bruise the rush defense's interior of Team Y.
When playing a team with a new coach, a Power 5 coach said it forces a lot of in-game adjustments.
"You get the advantage of self-scouting against familiar opponents," a Power 5 assistant coach said. "You learn from your mistakes, capitalize on tendencies, get a feel for their style or tempo, how they are gonna attack or defend against you."
Summer hours won't be in effect at several ACC coaching offices this year. Facing so many unknowns, North Carolina will be among many others culling answers.