North Carolina college football preview 2021: Can Tar Heels take the next step?

The North Carolina Tar Heels came into the 2020 season as a trendy pick for plenty of reasons. They had a proven stud at quarterback with a head coach who is highly thought of. North Carolina finished 8-4 with a loss in the Orange Bowl, so the program is still looking to take that next step as a challenger to Clemson.

Mack Brown has done a fantastic job turning the Tar Heels around quickly, and Sam Howell might be the best quarterback in the sport. He will be tasked with finding new play makers as two North Carolina running backs and two wide receivers were selected in this spring’s NFL Draft.

The Tar Heels enter 2021 with high expectations once again, and a double-digit win season is certainly not out of the question as they look to contend for an ACC Coastal title.

2020 Season Review

  • 8-4, 7-3 ACC (4th), Lost Orange Bowl (41-27 vs. Texas A&M)
  • Started with three consecutive wins, suffered a stunning loss to Florida State, scored 62 points in a blowout win over Miami

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 14
ESPN Returning Production: 79% overall (32nd): 77% offense (42), 81% defense (28)
Returning Talent Index: 1.71, 3rd in ACC
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 10/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Sam Howell (Junior)

With so many studs at the skill positions no longer on the roster, Sam Howell will have his work cut out for him in 2021. Last season’s running back duo Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were both drafted to the NFL as were receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. The Tar Heels still have plenty of returners on the offensive side of the ball that Howell should still be primed for a huge year and position himself well for next spring’s draft.

Offense (non-QB): RB Ty Chandler (Senior)

Sam Howell and the North Carolina passing game should be a significant factor in the ACC, but replacing the best running back tandem in college football last season will be important. Ty Chandler played 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons with the Tennessee Volunteers and while he has never shouldered a significant workload to this point, he should figure to see plenty of carries as the go-to guy in this backfield.

Defense: DT Raymond Vohasek (Senior)

The North Carolina defense should be a productive unit this season, and there is plenty of depth along the defensive line starting with defensive tackle Raymond Vohasek. He totaled 29 tackles last season, and 8.5 of them went for a loss including 3.5 sacks. If the Tar Heels can continue to get that type of pressure on a consistent basis from their defensive tackle,

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 12th overall: 6th offense, 53rd defense, 24th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 10th overall: 3rd offense, 43rd defense

To win national title: +5000
To win ACC: +700
Win total: 10 (Over +110, Under -139)

2020 Against The Spread: 5-7-0
2020 Point Total: Over 7-5-0

2021 North Carolina Football Schedule

Date Opponent Home/Away Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Home/Away Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Friday, Sep. 3 Virginia Tech A 6:00 p.m./ESPN UNC -6.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 Georgia State H 7:30 p.m./ESPN3 N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 Virginia H TBA N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 Georgia Tech Mercedes-Benz ATL TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 Duke H TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 Florida State H TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 Miami H TBA UNC -2.5
Saturday, Oct. 23 Open TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 Notre Dame A 7:30 p.m./NBC UNC +2.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 Wake Forest H TBA N/A
Thursday, Nov. 11 Pitt A 7:30 p.m./ESPN UNC -6.5
Saturday, Nov. 20 Wofford H TBA N/A
Friday, Nov. 26 NC State A 3:30 or 7:30/ABC-ESPN N/A