North Carolina Football: 2012 Preview

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner opened up to the media about his struggles in the spring. (Image courtesy of 247sports.com.)

Junior quarterback Bryn Renner has been known to ride the proverbial emotional rollercoaster with the best of them. When he threw one of his 13 interceptions, his anger at himself was visible minutes later as he paced the sideline. But when he completed a long pass for a touchdown, his jubilation would be just as obvious as he fist-pumped and jumped into the waiting arms of his teammates with a big grin on his face.

His statistics often reflected his mercurial nature. In a home win over Wake Forest, Renner completed 21-of-28 passes for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The very next weekend at NC State, he completed just 9-of-17 passes for 76 yards and two interceptions.

Those two defenses were very different, but when Renner was brimming with confidence, he was difficult to stop. The NC State game was one of the first times that the pain Renner was feeling in his ankle showed on his face, and ended up leaving the game with a concussion.

And in the spring, coming off of surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle, he tried too hard to impress new head coach Larry Fedora. “Until the spring game, I practiced like crap to be honest. I was terrible during the spring. As far as health-wise, trying to get the playbook down, it was a transition for me. But until the spring game, I practiced like crap and (the coaches) were probably saying the same thing.

“You get a new boss, so you want to go out there – if you had a regular job, you’re always going to want to impress the boss and make sure he knows you’re the right guy for the job. I put a little to much pressure on myself and I just didn’t come in and play my game.”

Renner has always been known as a gunslinger. But he also knows that in order for this team to be successful, he has to take better care of the ball. He completed 42 of his first 49 pass attempts last season, but four of those incompletions were interceptions. In Carolina’s seven wins, Renner threw 16 touchdowns to five interceptions. In six losses, he threw ten touchdowns and eight picks.

At times, it was like he wanted to push the limits of his own talent, trusting it sometimes even above his own better judgment. Now, he knows better. “I’ve got to be a game manager and protect the football first and foremost. If I do that, I think we’ve got enough skill players and enough talent around me to be a good football team,” Renner said.

“Obviously, the offense is only going to go as far as (Renner will) take us, or as far as he’s willing to take us. I know this…that guy’s got a lot of fire in him,” Fedora said. “He’s got a lot of want-to. So we’re going to be fine.”

Sophomore tailback Giovani Bernard will help that Carolina offense run smoothly, as will a very experienced offensive line (anchored by a preseason All-America selection at right guard, Jonathan Cooper). How good the wide receivers will be remains a mystery, but Carolina will have plenty of pass-catchers with a solid group of tight ends and backs. Fedora will implement his spread offense, but some pro-style elements likely will remain.

The Carolina defense, though, could struggle. Dan Disch and Vic Koenning are co-defensive coordinators, and the duo have implemented a 4-2-5 defense. The Tar Heels have two elite defenders in nose tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick, and there are solid starters in both of those units.

While the secondary has experience returning, that’s not necessarily a good thing; Carolina’s pass defense was atrocious last season. The Tar Heels can only hope that Tre Boston’s move back to safety benefits the talented junior. Jabari Price and Tim Scott both started last season and showed flashes.

Elon likely won’t test Carolina’s secondary much, but a Week 2 trip to Wake Forest certainly will. The Elon game will gave everyone an indication of how far the Tar Heels have come on both sides of the ball in learning the new schemes.

Season Prediction: 8-4 (5-3). Carolina’s schedule is easy enough; a road game at Louisville will be tough, and Virginia Tech at home seems like a loss. It’s tough to know what exactly to expect with this team. Everything will be new. Still, Fedora’s enthusiasm combined with the talent remaining on this team (particularly offensively) should be enough for Carolina’s third 8-4 regular-season finish in the last four seasons. The Tar Heels seem like the type of team that might beat a team that is better than they are on paper (like an NC State) and lose to a team they should arguably beat (like Duke). But considering Carolina’s penchant for 8-4 finishes (and its relatively easy ACC schedule) 8-4 seems reasonable.

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