Making Sense of the ACC Football Coastal Division: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Marquise Williams North Carolina Tar Heels

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels enter the 2014 season as the favorite to win the Coastal division after winning six of their final seven games last year, including a 39-14 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl. Their win streak came mostly against mediocre competition, though, with their one loss handed to them by the Duke Blue Devils. UNC still has a lot to prove, but they look like they should have all of the pieces to do it.

Why North Carolina could win the Coastal division:

Marquise Williams is one of the most electric quarterbacks in the conference. Williams was raw last season, but his play had a huge part in North Carolina’s turnaround. As a sophomore, he started five games and threw for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns with an additional 536 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. With a year of experience under his belt, Williams should be ready to for a leap forward.

However, UNC may have an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback situation. While Williams will have to live up to high expectations this season, he will have to actually win the starting job first. Redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is giving Williams a fight for the starting quarterback job, and the competition is going to continue into training camp. Williams is still the favorite thanks to his edge in experience, but if Trubisky can beat him out, it will be because he was the better quarterback. Tar Heel fans should be excited about that possibility.

The eventual starter will also have plenty of weapons at his disposal. The Tar Heels should have one of the best offenses in the ACC this season, even without first-round draft pick Eric Ebron. The Heels have a solid corp of running backs, led by T.J. Logan, and including one elite prospect in freshman Elijah Hood. At receiver, UNC has at least one top-notch target in Quinshad David and several other talented pass-catchers in Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and T.J. Thorpe.

Why North Carolina could end up in last place:

Of course, even great quarterbacks and skill players lose a lot of productivity when the offensive line struggles. And while North Carolina returns three starters on its line, it did lose two crucial pieces in left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine. It’s one thing to lose two starters, but Hurst and Bodine both earned All-ACC recognition last season playing the two most important positions on the line. The Heels should be able to put an effective line on the field anyway, but it is cause for concern.

The Tar Heels also lose a few talented defenders, including Kareem Martin, Jabari Price and Tre Boston. The defense does return most of its starters from last season, but it will need to get much better against the run after finishing last in the ACC in rushing defense last season. The defense should improve somewhat, but it may need to improve drastically if the Tar Heels are going to win the division.

Prediction:

UNC ultimately looks like the most complete team in the Coastal division and the favorite to win it. Nothing is a given in this division, though, and Carolina does have flaws. There could be six different teams in this division that could realistically aim for an appearance in the ACC Championship game. North Carolina may have the best shot, but their odds are only marginally better than the rest.

Previous articles in this series:

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils
No. 3 Miami Hurricanes
No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers

Dan Kelley covers college football for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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