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Thursday marked the beginning of the annual ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte, meaning that local and national media got their first opportunity to speak with some of the conference's players and coaches ahead of the 2016 season.

Representing the North Carolina football team at the Westin hotel were Coach Larry Fedora, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and cornerback Des Lawrence.

Here's what you missed.

Georgia on my mind

The North Carolina football team’s first game in the 2016 season is against Georgia, a quality SEC opponent, on Sep. 3. Even though the game is still over 40 days away, both Coach Larry Fedora and Ryan Switzer had some interesting things to say about the game and what it means to the team.

Ryan Switzer was asked about whether North Carolina was being overlooked as a national contender this upcoming season, and he answered by saying he thought North Carolina was overlooked even over the course of the 2015 season.

“I didn’t feel like we were made relevant last year,” Switzer said. “Even with our 11 game win streak, I felt like as slowly as we were moving up in the polls, we weren’t getting talked about.”

Switzer admitted that the Tar Heels missed some chances against quality opponents to prove themselves on a national stage last season.

“We didn’t win some key games we should have won – we didn’t beat Clemson, we didn’t beat Baylor on the spotlight games – so we have a great opportunity against Georgia on Sep. 3 to make a name for ourselves and beat a big-time program in front of a big-time audience.”

Fedora echoed his wide receiver’s comments about the team’s eagerness to take on the Bulldogs..

“It’s excitement of playing in a game of that magnitude because the guys don’t look at it as, ‘What does this do for our program,’” he said. “They dream when they are kids ... of playing in games like this. You want to play against great talent, in great atmospheres, so they are excited about it.”

Last season, North Carolina’s three losses came against South Carolina, an SEC team, Clemson in the ACC Championship and Baylor in its bowl game. All three were played on a national stage, and all three were tough losses. But UNC can avenge all those losses with a strong performance against Georgia. Switzer recognized just how important this opportunity is.

“We don’t want to blow it,” he said. “That’s as blunt as I can be.”

No respect

UNC may have been overlooked as a team last season, but one position group in particular feels like they were disrespected by the lack of love it received from the media.

North Carolina’s secondary, consisting of cornerbacks Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart and safeties Donnie Miles and Dominiquie Green, were a big reason why the Tar Heels ranked first in the ACC in turnovers -- combining for eight of the team’s 17 interceptions on the season.

Coach (Gene) Chizik always tells us that, 'It's not a coach's game. It's a player's game, and you guys are the ones to make plays on Saturdays,'” Lawrence said. “And I believe that, regardless of who you put out in front of us, we were able to make plays against everybody, and at the same time we didn't get the same notoriety.”

But the lack of fanfare around the defensive backs a season ago could act as a positive heading into the 2016 season. Lawrence said the secondary will only use this as more motivation, adding to what is already an extremely competitive atmosphere within the group.

“I just think that our biggest thing is to carry a chip on our shoulder,” Lawrence said. “It allows Donnie to get over 120 tackles in a season, it allows M.J. to get four picks, it allows me to get as many PBUs and tackles, so it just keeps us competitive.”

‘A very rare talent’

Marquise Williams, North Carolina’s quarterback for much of the last two seasons, is long gone. Naturally, a major question surrounding the team is what are the similarities and differences between Williams and his replacement, redshirt junior Mitch Trubisky.

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Switzer has seen both and is excited to see what Trubisky can do now that he has a chance at the starting job.

“I've been fortunate enough to catch passes from both of them,” Switzer said. “Like you said, not to diminish anything that Marquise did for our program, but Mitch is a very rare talent. Everything that he brings to the table, he's very composed, he's a very team-first kind of guy. I'm looking forward to seeing his talent displayed this year, especially with the guys that he has around him.”

Larry Fedora lasered in on some of the finer differences between Trubisky and Williams as passers.

“Quise threw a great long ball. He really did,” Fedora said. “Mitch is probably more accurate in the intermediate to short passses, probably more zip on the ball and more accuracy.”

That difference will lead to a little bit of a different look for the Tar Heels offensively in 2016. Maybe the offense will be a touch less explosive, but a touch more efficient and better at moving the chains with Trubisky under center.

Fedora also stressed how Trubisky is just as fast a runner as Williams, and that he wasn’t sure who would win in a race. Williams was a much more physical runner, though, and Trubisky hasn’t proven himself yet in that department.

“Mitch hasn’t been put in that position because Mitch hasn’t run the ball much,” Fedora said. “We don’t hit our quarterbacks in practice, so the jury’s still out on how that’s gonna happen as we go. If he can do what Quise did, running the football, more power to him. We will take it.”

sports@dailytarheel.com