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UNC tops spring 'sleeper' teams for 2013

Updated: April 29, 2013, 1:29 PM ET
By Travis Haney

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After visiting seven schools from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC in the past three weeks, I came to a few conclusions. Here's one: Coaches are rarely pleased with how their teams look in the spring.

You can follow the logic as to why. It's a season for motivation, of poor-mouthing to leave a message with players that can last through the coach-free summer months and into preseason camp.

North Carolina's Larry Fedora is no different.

"There are a lot of questions," the second-year coach said. "We're an average team coming out of spring. That's what we are, is average."

So we thank Fedora's tone for helping us fit his squad snugly into our classification of spring sleeper teams, those that are not being widely talked about, but could be dangerous by the fall.

Based on that current assessment of mediocrity, I asked Fedora whether he felt his team could compete this fall in the ACC. Suddenly, he perked up.

"No doubt. No doubt," Fedora said. "Just because I say we're average now, that's not to say where we'll be. We don't have to play now. I don't want to be peaking now, in April.

"It's about building it. We don't have to win today."

Other coaches I have talked with about North Carolina are well aware of the Tar Heels. One noted that everyone seems fixated on Ohio State as the again-eligible team to watch, but UNC could make some noise in the ACC and contend for a BCS bowl berth.

Fedora said it begins with a focus on the Coastal Division, now that winning it can again return to the team's list of goals. A division title means you're a single win away from a BCS bowl, Fedora said.

I also spoke with Fedora about the challenges facing new coaches in high-profile programs. He made mention of peers going to schools with talent already in place, and what an advantage that is when expectations begin to mount by Years 2 and 3.

Fedora did not say this, but I will: He entered one of those fortunate, stable situations. Former UNC coach Butch Davis was not let go for his inability to recruit, or even coach.

Just look at this past weekend's draft. The Tar Heels had an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman and a running back taken in the first 37 picks.

The cupboard is not bare, either. Fedora was the only coach on my recent trip to voluntarily give me a position-by-position breakdown of what is returning. He highlighted some strengths and was unafraid to single out a few players who must emerge in order for UNC to fulfill the sleeper destiny. Here are some of the highlights:

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