With UNC beginning its 2018 football season at California on Sept. 1, sports editor Chris Hilburn-Trenkle and assistant sports editors Holt McKeithan and Jack Frederick each submitted their predictions for the 2018 campaign.
Fresh off the worst season for the program since John Bunting’s last year at the helm in 2006, the North Carolina football team is hoping for a much better 2018 campaign. With Nathan Elliott under center, at least the team now has a starting quarterback. Stability at the quarterback position was something junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams noted would be important to the team’s success in July at ACC Kickoff. Elliott posted fairly pedestrian numbers last season, completing 51.4 percent of his passes for ten touchdowns and five interceptions. With Michael Carter, Jordon Brown and Antonio Williams all capable of starting in the backfield, he will likely defer to his skilled players as much as possible.
I expect the three running backs to combine for more than 2,000 yards as UNC utilizes a more run-heavy offense, something that head coach Larry Fedora does not usually do. I also expect Ratliff-Williams to take another step forward as a junior as he establishes himself as a top pass-catcher in the country.
Defensively, suspensions to defensive linemen Malik Carney and Tomon Fox hurt the defense. But the Tar Heels have more depth in the defensive trenches than any other position group. With those two players out, upperclassmen defensive tackles Jalen Dalton and Aaron Crawford will lead the way and perform well. The linebackers and secondary have plenty of experience, with all seven projected starters upperclassmen. The defense was fine against the pass last season, allowing just 212.7 yards per game, but allowed an abysmal 213 yards per game on the ground, a number that ranked last in the conference. For the defense to be better this season, it must not give up big plays through the running game.
UNC will be better than last season. The team had seven games decided by 12 points or fewer and went 1-6 in those contests, a bit of bad luck at play. I expect the team to be better this year with a strong rushing attack and enough talent to win six games, with one of those wins coming against East Carolina in the second game of the season.