Too much of 2012’s news happened off the field for the North Carolina football team.
Just three months after Larry Fedora was hired away from Southern Mississippi, in December of last year, the NCAA Committee on Infractions ruled on March 12 that his first team would be ineligible to play in a bowl game.
With this reality looming over the program from the beginning of his tenure, Fedora faced the twin challenges of implementing his up-tempo offense and inspiring players struggling to find something to work toward.
Off the field, it was clear that Fedora’s long-term commitment would be to return support to a program whose fans were becoming increasingly weary of scandal and mediocre performance.
For the most part, he was successful.
The season saw the emergence of Giovani Bernard as a Tar Heel hero and UNC’s first win against N.C. State in six years.
“Our goal is just to go out there and win 12 games,” Kevin Reddick, a senior linebacker, said before the season. “My mindset is to stop somebody else from going to the ACC championship or going to a bowl game.”
The Tar Heels didn’t win 12 games, but they went 8-4, winning five games in the ACC.
UNC finished the season Nov. 24 with a victory against Maryland and the best record in the Coastal Division.
“We never looked back,” Fedora said after the Maryland game. “Then it was like, ‘OK, here’s the plan, here’s what we’re going to do,’ and we really haven’t talked about it since.”
But the season’s end was a cruel reminder of the problems the Fedora era had inherited.
Questions lingered about the team’s dedication up until the season opener. Fedora said he wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort in practice before the game against Elon.
“It wasn’t good enough — I can tell you that,” Fedora said before the game. “It’s not anything the way we practiced like during camp.”
Despite posting impressive results throughout the non-conference schedule, the Tar Heels fell to Duke for the first time in eight years on Oct. 20.
After UNC’s defense gave up 68 points against Georgia Tech, some asked if UNC had simply stopped caring.
Senior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had a definitive answer to those questions.
“We had many chances to lay down,” Williams said after the game against Maryland. “We had many chances to give our season up and say, ‘Oh, we lost to Duke. It’s over for us.’ No. We came back and kept fighting.”
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