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Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Does small senior class make UNC young?

By Andrea Adelson

North Carolina Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora knows he has an unusually small senior class headed into 2014, a fact he has pointed out to throughout the preseason.

But does that make the Tar Heels inexperienced?

It all depends on your perspective.

With the recent dismissal of Shawn Underwood, North Carolina has 11 seniors on its 105-man roster. Five are starters -- four on defense and just one on offense. Only one of those five players -- cornerback Tim Scott -- has started more than 15 career games.

Forty players are either true or redshirt freshmen. But as Phil Steele points out, the Tar Heels return 75 percent of their lettermen from a year ago to rank No. 22 in the country. Indeed, North Carolina relied on a bevy of young stars to turn around a tough start to 2013 and make a bowl game. Those young stars are another year more experienced. Sophomores like Ryan Switzer, Khris Francis, T.J. Logan, Bug Howard, Dominique Green and Brian Walker will be relied on even more. Three sophomores are expected to start on the offensive line as well.

That may not replace the intangible that senior leadership brings, but at least the Tar Heels have got a solid core of young talent with game experience headed into the season.

Now for a comparison, let us take a look at rival NC State. Coach Dave Doeren has spent months discussing the youth on his team, throwing out one stat after another to prove his point.

The Wolfpack have 52 true or redshirt freshmen on the 105-man roster and 17 total seniors. Of that senior group, eight are projected starters. Three have started 20-plus games in their careers.

Even though the senior class is larger and 14 starters are back, NC State still ranks No. 114 in the nation in experience. So in this case, a bigger senior class does not translate into more experience because nearly 50 percent of the NC State roster has never played a collegiate down.

Plus, NC State does not have as many sophomores with as much game experience as those at North Carolina.

Bottom line: The North Carolina senior class may be small, but the Tar Heels make up for the numbers with many more experienced players across the board. The only issue  to work through is leadership. We saw what strong senior leadership meant to Duke a year ago. With so few seniors, Fedora knew he had to try and develop more leaders. So earlier in the summer, Fedora decided to go away from a senior-only leadership course to include players by position. Switzer, Quinshad Davis and T.J. Thorpe were in that group.

Will it help? We have to wait and see.