What is the football culture like in Chapel Hill? Is there trouble looming on the horizon? For all that and more we caught up with the guys over at Tar Heel Blog and asked them the following.
SOTU: The big three of Bryn Renner, Giovanni Bernard, and Erik Highsmith are well documented as big time players. Who else on UNC's offense should we watch for this Saturday?
THB: Eric Ebron can do some absolutely phenomenal things at tight end. If recent history shows, he'll also commit a couple of dumb penalties, do one or two frustrating things, only to wipe the slate clean with a fifty-plus yard reception where he jumped approximately 37 feet in the air. (Vertical measurements are estimated, possibly while drinking. It can be jaw-dropping. Then there's Sean Tapley, the sophomore wide receiver best known for returning the first kickoff for a touchdown against Virginia Tech since 1993 last week. He's also fitting in well with the offense, though not as well as the freshman Quinshad Davis, who like Ebron is accmplishing some incredible athletic feats. Finally there are Bernard's teammates in the backfield, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, who did great work while Bernard was out two games and continue to make UNC's ground game multidimensional. Also, Morris has blocked two punts, which I can't even begin to understand. The offense is pretty loaded at the skill positions, is what I'm saying.
SOTU: The defense has lost a lot of talent to the NFL lately. Who have been the key performers this year on that side of the ball?
THB: Kevin Reddick (inside linebacker) and Sylvester Williams (defensive tackle), both seniors, are the big names on the defense, and their a big reason why the pass rush has been so successful and the rush defense is holding opponents to under three yards a carry. The secondary, alas, has had a few problems in recent weeks, especially with giving up big plays.
SOTU: What is your opinion of the young 'Canes team UNC faces this weekend? Which players concern you as match-up problems for the Heels?
THB: I have been pretty down on the team, dating back to when they gave up 31 points to Boston College in their opening game. The defense has done very little to impress me - although really, who in Coastal Division has a good defense this year? My big concern is with UNC's secondary.
SOTU: If you had to come up with an all-time top 3 of UNC football players, regardless of position, who would you pick and why?
THB: Lawrence Taylor and Charlie Justice get the first two slots (in no particular order), for obvious reasons. The third is wide open; there are a lot of good players from the Mack Brown era and since who did some phenomenal work. For lack of a better option, I'll go with the biggest name, Julius Peppers.
THB: Why let me introduce you to our brand new Academic Scandal hub, where you can bask in the misery of bloggers forced to cover the tarnishing of their university's academic reputation. Isn't technology grand? The short answer is the university's initial investigation has concluded, and now an outside task force, led by governor Jim Martin is going through everything a second time. Meanwhile, the local paper writes a story a week or so, desperately wanting th scandal to touch in the basketball team, without much success to date. I think the end result will be intensified scrutiny of the academics among athletes and possibly raised academic standards, which the outgoing chancellor is already beginning to implement. There will be no further NCAA sanctions from this, as nothing is limited to the athletic department; there may be a small dip in the quality of UNC's athletics, although with the NCAA as a whole moving toward increased standards, I doubt there will be any significant damage.
SOTU: UNC is known more as a hoops school. Can football ever reach the same level at Chapel Hill?
THB: "The same level" is a tough benchmark. There's going to be a sense of history that the football program will not be able to match for a half a century, so there's always going to be a slight discrepancy. Can football generate the same excitement in the present-day that basketball does? Certainly. No one finds it odd when traditional football powers excel at basketball (see Texas and Florida in the mid 2000's) and UNC could easily grow into a football power over the next decade.
SOTU: How do you see the game playing out? Who wins and by what score?
THB: I think enough touchdowns will be scored to make viewers think it's a West Virginia game, but in the end UNC pulls out the win.
For more information on the game, and to see our answers to their questions, be sure to head on over to Tar Heel Blog.
Thanks to the guys over at THB for working with us.