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NCAA Football ACC FootballNorth Carolina Tar Heels

Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 24 North Carolina Tar Heels

Rant Sports Top 100 Teams of 2013: No. 24 North Carolina

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Few college football teams are as intriguing as the 2013 North Carolina Tar Heels, and that is precisely why UNC comes in at No. 24 in Rant Sports’ 100 Teams in 100 days. Head coach Larry Fedora was excellent in his first season in the ACC, finishing 8-4 and in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division. And with sanctions gone that kept the Heels out of the post-season, Fedora and his team are poised for greatness this fall.

Key Players

There is no one more important on this Tar Heel squad than senior quarterback Bryn Renner. Renner has been a three-year starter and more than likely will leave Carolina as its most prolific passer in school history, as well as having the chance to be the first Tar Heels QB in the history of the school with three-consecutive 3000-plus yard passing seasons. As Renner goes, so will UNC in 2013.

Defensively, all eyes will be on senior defensive end Kareem Martin. Martin is the returning team leader in tackles with 15.5 and is the engine that will drive the Carolina pressure up front. The Tar Heels will need for him to be in the 18 tackle range with about eight sacks this season.

Offense

Beyond Renner, things are pretty solid for Carolina despite the loss of all-everything running back Giovani Bernard, who averaged 122.8 yards per game as a sophomore. There to take his spot is Senior A.J. Blue and sophomore Romar Morris. Blue will be more of the power back, while Morris will be the change of pace back. Freshmen T.J. Logan and Khris Francis will also get some very valuable carries.

On the outside, Renner has superior targets in junior Sean Tapley, sophomore Quinshad Davis and junior Mark McNeill. Add the best tight end in the ACC in junior Eric Ebron, and this will be a fun team that will probably be in the top five in the nation in scoring.

The one question mark area, though, is on the line. Senior left tackle James Hurst is an All-American candidate, but is the lone returning starter. The faster this group gels, the better for Carolina.

Defense

The Tar Heel defense was quite a mystery in 2012 and will have to be better if Carolina wants to play in the ACC title game in 2013. The Heels were third in the nation last season in tackles for losses per game, but gave up 30 or more points six times. That is a trend that has to change in 2013 as UNC must be in the top-30 in the nation in defense to contend nationally.

A pair of key elements in this besides Martin upfront will be junior middle linebacker P.J. Clyburn and senior nose tackle Tim Jackson. Both will have to play huge roles in pressure and coverage.

Carolina returns their entire secondary in senior corner Jabari Price, junior corner Tim Scott, sophomore free safety Darien Rankin and senior strong safety Tre Boston. This group has to find a way to stop the big plays that killed UNC last season and come up with more interceptions.

Schedule

The path for Carolina will not be an easy one in 2013 to say the least. The Tar Heels jump right into the fire in Week 1 as they travel to attempt to knock of one of the best teams in the nation and the SEC in the South Carolina Gamecocks.

It’s a game UNC can win, by the way, but a game that just signals the brutal road schedule for the Heels as they will face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Virginia Tech Hokies, North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Pittsburgh Panthers away from Chapel Hill in 2013.

The game of the year for UNC in the ACC will be October 17 as they host the Miami Hurricanes. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to win the Coastal.

Can the Tar Heels continue to be one of the best offenses in the nation with this schedule? Yes. Can Carolina improve a defense that was 53rd overall in 2012? Maybe.

M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Follow him @woodysmalls.