A pair of rivalry wins, the rise of Sam Howell and Mack Brown's return to Chapel Hill were just a few of the highlights from a memorable 2019 UNC football season.
But that was just the start.
With the news of Brown extending his coaching contract into the 2024 season and with Howell having three years of eligibility remaining, we took a look ahead to the 2020 season to see how North Carolina can build on 2019's sturdy foundation.
Key offensive players returning
The Tar Heels are expected to return 10 of their 11 starters on the offensive side of the ball. After redshirting in 2015, left tackle Charlie Heck used his four years of eligibility and will not be returning in 2020.
Despite the key loss of Heck, UNC's offense should only improve next season.
Howell will get an offseason in Chapel Hill to continue improving at the quarterback position after taking home the award for 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year.
A big factor that should play a role in Howell's development will be the familiar faces he'll be throwing to during the 2020 campaign. With Dazz Newsome's social media announcement of his decision to return to the team, the Tar Heels will maintain their four-man receiving corps. Newsome and sophomore Dyami Brown both crossed the 1,000 receiving yards mark last season, while Beau Corrales and Rontavius "Toe" Groves combined for 825 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches.
North Carolina's premier pair of running backs, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, are both expected to be back in Kenan Stadium after Carter confirmed his return following UNC's 55-13 win over Temple in the Military Bowl. Carter and Williams totaled 1,157 and 1,109 yards from scrimmage, respectively, and combined for eight rushing touchdowns.
Significant losses on defense
The defensive side of the UNC football team will certainly suffer more after losing several key contributors.
Defensive linemen Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge will be the toughest losses for the Tar Heels. The two wreaked havoc on opposing offenses by combining for 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season. Strowbridge, in particular, seemed on a mission to shine a light on the team's new turnover belt as he recovered fumbles against Clemson, Duke and Virginia Tech.
Behind the defensive line, North Carolina will also have to cope with the departure of linebacker Dominique Ross and safety Myles Dorn. Ross managed to break up five passes to go along with 60 tackles on the season, while Dorn accumulated 83 tackles and snagged a pair of interceptions.
One beam of hope for the UNC defense is that linebacker Chazz Surratt announced that he will be playing for North Carolina for his senior season following his debut as a defensive player that culminated in a first-team All-ACC selection.
Recruits to watch
Without a doubt, the biggest name in UNC's 2020 recruiting class — which ranks No. 19 in the country, according to 247Sports — is Lee County's Desmond Evans. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end chose the Tar Heels over reported offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Florida.
247 Sports has Evans ranked as the No. 32 player in the country and No. 2 in the state of North Carolina. Evans also earned second-team honors as a MaxPreps All-American.
Although he may not be quite as highly-rated as Evans, Jacolby Criswell is another recruit worthy of attention simply because he plays the quarterback position.
Criswell verbally committed to UNC in early June, about six months after Howell flipped from Florida State to North Carolina. Even after Howell's impressive first-year season, Criswell remained confident in his decision and signed with the Tar Heels on Dec. 18.
The 4-star passer is ranked as the No. 11 dual threat quarterback on 247Sports, and has the potential to cause some competition for playing time as UNC's quarterback in 2020.
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