Thursday, August 16, 2007


When C&F first heard that Butch Davis had taken the head coaching job ath North Carolina, he wondered whether the former Miami leader had lost his mind. If you wanted to find a bad team -- just bad -- you'd be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than the Tar Heels.

North Carolina went 3-9 last year, with the wins coming against I-AA Furman, N.C. State and Duke. To add insult to injury, they beat Furman by a field goal and Duke by a point. Losses included a 52-7 torching at Clemson and a 23-0 defeat at Virginia.

Excuse me, coach, when was your last mental exam?

But then C&F realized that Butch Davis was doing on a much larger scale what Spurrier did in 2005 -- if he couldn't get his old job back (and Miami was at least going to wait to offer Davis, and might not have done so at all), then the competitive side of him wanted a challenge. For his part, Spurrier at least found a program with a pulse. Davis faces the football equivalent of Weekend at Bernie's.

Not that there isn't any promise at North Carolina. N.C. State and Duke haven't exactly been powerhouses in recent years, despite infrequent good seasons from N.C. State, so the state is wide-open in terms of recruiting if Davis can show tangible signs of progress. In 2007, he has to worry about minimizing the embarrassment.


O-line. The center and right side of the line return. The unit allowed 22 sacks last season, while the Tar Heels averaged about 113 yards a game on the ground. This isn't a lost cause, but it also isn't likely to wow anyone's front seven. Still, trust South Carolina's offensive line only when it shows it can perform. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Quarterback. Your candidates here are redshirt freshman T.J. Yates, who went 10-15 for 163 yards and 3 TDs in the spring game, and CAm Sexton, who completed 42 percent of his passes last year (57-136) for 840 yards, 4 TDs and 8 INTs. Either one is likely to have a rocky year, even in the ACC. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. Hakeem Nicks is the most valuable of the group, catching 39 passes for 660 yards and four scores last year. (Which is an accomplishment when you consider the Tar Heels' success through the air.) Brandon Tate is favored by some to win the other starting position, despite catching just five passes for 72 yards in 2006. Brooks Foster caught 38 balls for 486 yards and 2 TDs. Joe Dailey? North Carolina fans might recognize him from last year. When he played quarterback. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Running backs. No one currently on team ran the ball 100 times last year. Justin Warren carried it seven times for 77 yards and a TD. Richie Rich, called a "co-starter" in his player bio (no one else is thusly identified) has carried the ball once for -1 yards. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

He could also start at tailback.


Defensive line. The members of this season's line got 14 TFLs and 9 sacks last year. The totaled 90 tackles all year and return two starters from a unit that surrendered almost 173 rushing yards a game last year. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Linebackers. Durell Mapp, the sole returning starter, got 87 tackles last year, including four TFL. The other options are less attractive; only one other potential starter (Chase Rice) has more than 30 tackles. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. The linebackers who come back actually have more interceptions (2) than the returning members of the secondary, who have none. The only returning starter is Jermaine Strong, who was unimpressive. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Davis has never actually won a national championship, but laid the groundwork for the Hurricanes' 2001 crown. His experience at the NFL's Cleveland Brown was ... less than ideal, but that makes him no different than Spurrier on that count. ADVANTAGE: PUSH


North Carolina will be a difficult opponent for anyone who faces them down the road; Davis should have success turning the Heels into a tough team. But this year is part of the rebuilding effort. It's not impossible for North Carolina to win, but it's hard to see any scenario where it actually happens. WIN


A long, long four months awaits Davis and his team. Games against Virginia, at South Florida, at Virginia Tech, against Miami, at Wake Forest, against Maryland, and at Georgia Tech are probably also lost causes. The opener against James Madison is winnable, as is the last game against Duke. The contests at East Carolina and N.C. State are tough. Another 3-9 season should be welcomed by Heels fans; 2-10 is likely and 1-11 is not out of the question.

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Blogger Ryan Ferguson said...

Hmm... maybe.

A pulse? I suppose. I think most would equate UNC and pre-Spurrier USC as roughly equivalent. I actually think Davis has a better opportunity to excel at NORTH Carolina than Spurrier does at SOUTH Carolina.


Awesome facilities -- great budget, great recruiting base and (this is the downer, I suppose) a much easier conference in which to rise.

You look at South Carolina trying to rise, along with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, and you almost feel sorry for the Ol' Ball Coach. The SEC East is just mercilessly tough. At least Spurrier is one of the three Nat'l Championship coaches in the division. Out west you have Saban, Tuberville (who should have had the chance to play for a ring in 2004) and Les Miles' #2 ranked Tigers.

Rough conference to try to rise out of a historical mediocrity.

Then you have Urban Meyer putting together two consecutive Top 2 recruiting classes and the Gators becoming a serious juggernaut (I know I'm a homer, but they are) who lurks on the schedule every year.

Butch Davis made a good call in my view. UNC can only go up and I expect them to do so. Miami and FSU are the only teams in the conference who hold powerhouse status vs. the SEC's 5-6 each year.

5:31 PM

Blogger Brandon said...

"I think most would equate UNC and pre-Spurrier USC as roughly equivalent."

Only if you omit recent history. In the five years before Spurrier came to USC, the program's record was 33-26. In the five years before Butch Davis came to UNC, the team's record is 19-40. A bit of a difference there.

I don't doubt that UNC has an easier conference to rise in -- for now. I love folks that write off Spurrier when it comes to winning at South Carolina because there's no history there. Take a wild guess at how many conference titles Florida had won when Spurrier got there? Zero. None. Spurrier won one (two if you count the probation-nullified 1990 season) SEC titles in the pre-division era, when the argument would have been "How can the Gators possibly compete with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi State (which was good back then), etc.?" And they did.

And if you think Ole Miss and Mississippi State are rising, I think either Ed Orgeron or Sly Croom would love to have you as their AD.

Recruiting? How about a consensus Top 5 class? Not as good as Top 2, but still pretty damn good. (And Larry Coker is among those who won a NC with someone else's players before presiding over a steep slide, so let's not make Meyer a Hall of Famer yet.)

North Carolina might have a good recruiting base, but they have to win first. As I alluded to, there are a lot of ACC and SEC teams right now (including South Carolina, coincidentally) that are raiding N.C. for talent because none of the schools there have won the last few years.

"Miami and FSU are the only teams in the conference who hold powerhouse status"

Um, Virginia Tech? And outside of "powerhouse" status, you also have good teams in BC, Clemson (even Baby Bowden wins eight games a year), and GT (where Gaily finally won more than seven games, with Reggie Ball no less).

I don't doubt that North Carolina will be successful with Davis, as I think I made clear in the post. But I don't think there's any reason to believe they'll be more successful -- and certainly not "excel" more -- at North Carolina than South Carolina.

8:04 PM

Blogger Ryan Ferguson said...

I understand your point. But you're missing something with the pre-Spurrier UF equation. Galen Hall and Charlie Pell opened to floodgates for the Gator domination era. Pell brought in Bell Hill Griffin Jr. with a $25mil check (in the mid eighties, a ton of money... heck, still is today) and formed the Gator club concept. The financial backbone of the modern day Gator Nation did not exist until Pell took this step. Now UF has one of the top athletic budgets in the nation, by most estimates somewhere in the $100mil/year range. Florida also finished "first in the SEC" in 1984 and 1985, but sanctions prevented them the opportunity to hold the conference title. Those "first in the SEC" pennants were still painted in the Swamp until our most recent championship year (2006) forced them to finally be removed to make room for the newer championships to be displayed.

Florida fielded some superb teams in the mid to late eighties. Superb. Had Charlie Pell not paid for a suit for one of his kids to attend a funeral, and taken the blame for a multitude of other extremely minor offenses, the Gators would have had two SEC championships prior to Spurrier's arrival in 1990.

One other thing: Spurrier himself says that his 1990 team came "loaded." He landed in a great situation and saw himself winning right away with the kind of athletes that came to Florida. He defined Gator football during his time here, but he did not create Gator football or the passion that surrounded it. Nor did he create the fantastic University Athletic Department which funded the growth of both Gator football and basketball. The strong backbone here is why Florida won another championship in 2006... with none of Spurrier's players still on the roster.

I believe Spurrier can make USC a contender. It's just a brutal division in which to attempt to do it. I think a couple of SEC titles are doable in Spurrier's time in Columbia but domination seems doubtful given the recruiting acumen of other coaches in the SEC, not to mention the vastly superior resources of certain other schools.

As for Virginia Tech, I don't consider them to be a powerhouse, personally. They are a very good team under Beamer. I suppose it's subjective and there's no right or wrong answer, but VT could still be the type of team that fades in and out of the national consciousness over the years. Miami and FSU have already passed that bar (although some would say they're headed back toward it in reverse!)

10:39 AM

Blogger Brandon said...

Fair enough. And I don't expect domination. But I also don't think anyone is going to dominate the SEC East for a long time to come, particularly if Brooks can prove that he's not just another Kentucky coach who's going to have a good two years before returning to mediocrity. (To be honest with you, if we even sniff the BCS title game sometime in the next five years, I'll be ecstatic and surprised.)

South Carolina also has a massive facilities plan (in the neighborhood of $100-200 million, if memory serves, an amount so high the athletics department's debt ceiling had to be raised by the legislature), fan loyalty in spades and the WB, which isn't exactly a dump.

On the wider point, though, you're right. Spurrier won't be the Spurrier of the 90s at South Carolina. But the way this league's going, I doubt anybody's going to be that dominant, or at least not for a while. (Consider how long it was between Bear Bryant at his prime and Spurrier at his.)

6:27 PM


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